1 The UK water supply
The water industry in the UK is complex, and its organisation differs in each part of the UK.
Water supply and sewerage
England and Wales Water services are provided by the private sector. Ten privatised companies deliver both water and sewerage services, while 15 water supply companies provide drinking water to their customers. The full cost of water and sewerage is met by the customers; this includes replacing old mains and sewers, and satisfying EU regulations on water quality. In addition, the private companies are expected to make a profit.
Scotland Scottish Water is the single water authority. It supplies water and sewerage services to the whole of Scotland. Scottish Water is answerable to the Scottish Executive but is structured and managed as a private company.
Northern Ireland Services remain in the public sector — the Water Service is an Executive Agency within the Department for Regional Development.
Because water companies and authorities do not have to compete for domestic customers and compete only in a limited way for industrial customers, the prices they charge customers need to be regulated.
England and Wales The Office of Water Services (OFWAT) has the duty to protect customers' interests while ensuring that the privately owned water companies carry out and finance their operations properly.
Scotland The Water Commissioner oversees the performance of Scottish Water, their charging policy and service standards.
Northern Ireland No separate regulator currently exists (2004).
The water industry is dependent upon the natural environment and also has a huge impact on it. The industry abstracts or takes water from rivers, reservoirs or aquifers, then treats it and pumps it to customers. It then collects the waste water, cleans it and discharges it back into rivers and seas.
England and Wales The Environment Agency (EA) protects the environment in England and Wales. It has the duty to control discharges to rivers and seas, conserve water resources, prevent pollution and promote conservation.
Scotland The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has powers and duties similar to those of the EA.
Northern Ireland This is carried out by the Water Service and is monitored by the Environment and Heritage Service, part of the Department of the Environment.
Drinking water quality
The water suppliers carry out tests for water quality. Failures must be reported to the appropriate body.
England and Wales The Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) is an independent, government-appointed regulator. The DWI implements standards and maximum permissible levels for the various chemicals in drinking water and can prosecute companies that fail to meet those standards.
Scotland and Northern Ireland Water quality is the responsibility of government — the Scottish Executive and the Northern Ireland Water Service.