So at last we have an updating of the hosepipe ban laws that were first written in 1945. Perhaps a forward-thinking government would have had them in place in the spring of 2006 (or even 2004) when we really needed them rather than the Autumn of 2007 when they will only mean anything in the Spring of 2008? Environment Minister Phil Woolas is triumphant when he says “we have committed to bring in legislation which is bang up to date” – shame it’s effectively at least 2 years late Phil, but never mind.
Alright, enough of the cynicism, this is a good thing right? Well, we think it’s brilliant to have a modernised law that extends the powers of water companies to ban unnecessary water use during water shortages. Under previous rules, the watering of gardens and washing of cars with hosepipes was banned. The new law will mean a much wider range of activities will be banned under a drought, such as washing windows, cleaning patios, filling pools (with some exceptions), fountains, ornamental ponds. These changes were badly needed and we applaud the government for finally making them.
What we worry about is the discretionary nature of the new laws. Water companies will now be able to say to their customers “Right, we have a drought so we’ll put a hosepipe ban in place – here’s a list of the activities that are banned…”. And another water company will put a ban in place with a different set of rules causing general confusion. During last year’s hosepipe bans the number one question this web site had to answer was: “What hosepipe ban rules apply in my area?”. Now people will be confused even further.
In practice of course these discretionary powers will surely mean that whenever a water company is allowed to impose restrictions it will simply impose the full set of possible restrictions that it can. Why would it introduce half measures? We think this would actually be a better scenario, but then why call the rules ‘discretionary’?
So, yes, we have an improvement here, but there’s still a lot of ambiguity involved. And it seems government isn’t interested in imposing water restrictions to the whole country and ‘sharing’ the responsibility of inevitably dryer conditions between everyone. Would it not be fairer for the whole country to be placed under restrictions rather than just those living in the driest areas? Not easy to implement of course, especially as water companies are now in private hands. Such brave decisions are surely needed though given the predictions of dryer and dryer conditions.
At first glance we believe this is simply a case of patching up the current system until government can produce a good system that will last throughout the century.