Tougher targets for cutting water leaks are being demanded by MPs, with a “shocking” three billion litres being lost each day.
Water industry targets to reduce leakage by 15 per cent by 2025 are “not ambitious enough”, said the Commons’ Environment Committee.
Pressure on firms to act should be increased by hastening the goal of halving the amount of water lost to 2040, rather than by 2050, said the committee in a report published today.
It also wants water companies to be allowed to introduce compulsory metering, even if it could lead to “significant” bill hikes.
The cross-party group warned that drought summers - such as this one which left Yorkshire reservoirs almost half empty - are likely to occur more often in future, heightening the need for resilience in the system.
Committee chair Neil Parish MP said: “Water leaks affect the environment, as the more is leaked, the more must be taken from our rivers and other natural sources.
“It also sends a poor message to the public about the value of water when people are being encouraged to save water.
“Water companies should be leading by example. We are calling for the amount of water lost through leaks to be halved by 2040.”
Only companies in regions designated as “water-stressed” are currently permitted to make metering of water consumption compulsory.
Water UK chief executive Michael Roberts said the industry was aware that leakage is “a big priority” and that water companies have proposed the most ambitious leakage reduction programme in 20 years.
Mr Roberts added: “Continued roll-out of metering is an important tool for managing demand, but how and when it is done needs to be handled carefully as part of a wider approach reflecting the needs of different customers.”
Yorkshire Water - which unveiled a new long-term plan for the future in April - said it had an ambitious target to reduce leakage by 40 per cent by 2025.
A Yorkshire Water spokesperson said: “To achieve this, we have already hired over 170 additional leakage inspectors and are investing in the use of cutting-edge technology including drones, satellites and acoustic loggers. This will help us enhance our monitoring of pipe water flows and detect invisible underground leaks so we can repair them quicker.
“Looking after the environment is also something we take very seriously in order to protect river water quality and fish biodiversity. We collect, treat and safely return one billion litres of waste water every single day with very few issues, but realise we can do more to prevent incidents occurring and that’s why we intend to cut our pollution rate by 40 per cent by as soon as 2020.”
The spokesperson said Yorkshire Water will review all customer accounts every year and proactively contact anyone who they believe may financially benefit from switching to a water meter, adding: “It’s worth noting around 50 per cent of our customers are already on a meter and for many, but not all, this helps reduce their bill.”
Responding to the MPs’ report, a Defra spokesperson said: “The Government has made clear the water industry must raise its game. We want companies to invest more, reduce leakages and help customers to become more water efficient, including through metering.
“Water companies are starting to rise to this challenge. The Environment Secretary has been clear that we will support regulators to secure a sustainable water supply for the future.
“We will respond to the EFRA committee’s report in due course.”