The managing director of water efficiency campaign group Waterwise has challenged the sector to “throw everything” at per capita consumption (PCC) to reduce it by 50 per cent.

Speaking at the not-for-profit’s annual conference in London earlier this week (19 March) Nicci Russell praised water companies for the “ambition” shown across the UK but said the organisation would “always like to see more”.

Reflecting on the draft business plans for PR19 in England and Wales and water resource management plans, she said: “We’re really keen to say that we’re seeing more ambition than ever before right across the UK – not just in the areas that people would traditionally think of as water-stressed but right across the UK.”

She highlighted Yorkshire Water as “one of the most” ambitious companies on PCC as an example.

And she said there has been “fantastic ambition from the government, not least in terms of its 25-year environment plan.”

Sir James Bevan, the chief executive of the Environment Agency warned that England could be just 25 years away from not having enough water to meet demand and is facing the “jaws of death”, as he delivered his keynote speech earlier in the day.

Russell said: “As we are a campaigning organisation we would always like to see more. It’s fantastic to have Sir James Bevan putting all this oxygen around the subject.

“Because we are all committed in this room, what we need to do is get everybody else on board and it was great to have Sir James Bevan quoting and hanging lots of his speech on Waterwise wanting to see us getting to 100 litres per capita consumption or lower.”

But she challenged the sector to go further as she warned her proposals may make some companies in the room gasp.

“We really should be getting to 100 – some of the companies are looking at 100 over the next 25-years, most of them are planning for 115 or more.

“What I’ve been saying is companies are committing to cut leakage by 50 per cent by 2050 – how about throwing everything at it and trying to reduce per capita consumption by 50 per cent.”

Highlighting Anglian Water’s innovation “shop window” initiative in Newmarket, she said: “Anglian Water has shown that if you did throw everything at it you could bring PCC down to 80. We are the NGO – you expect us to be pushing for the next steps.”

She added: “Part of it is about top-level ambition and part of it is about culture change in the companies to make sure you are set up to deliver the ambition that you are coming up with.

“And in the short term – we did say to Ofwat why don’t you challenge in the IAP [initial assessment of business plans] a 10 per cent reduction.

“We know that that’s not easy and it’s so reliant on customer behaviour but if we had lots of the things government could bring to the table like a water efficiency label, building regulations and all of the things the sector could do then we can aim even higher than we are already.”

Russell said Waterwise welcomes the “industry, government and regulatory appetite” and it is “looking forward to the consultation from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on “what might come next” – in terms of metering, a PCC target across the sector and a water efficiency label.

“A water efficiency label has been talked about for a long time among the water efficiency community – we think we might almost be there.”

She also suggested that research funded by the water sector showed that with a mandatory government label, building standings for new homes and product standards, PCC could be reduced without the need for “behavioural change”.

“You could knock 30 litres off PCC by 2045 – within 25 years so let’s do it,” she said.

Stuart Colville, director of strategy at Water UK said a national PCC reduction target could form part of the solution if “done well”.

He suggested there is a different level of ambition and “systematic change” for the supply side, which is not as obvious on the demand side.

“A national PCC target could be part of that answer if it’s done well. I don’t think it’s the only answer and it needs to be done in a particular way,” he said.

An Ofwat spokesperson told Utility Week: “Lowering per capita consumption is an important part of increasing the resilience of our future water supplies. In the business plans we have received, some companies have ambitious targets for reducing consumption, and we’ve already asked others to revise their plans and go further.

“As we develop our new vision for the water sector and strategy for Ofwat, we will be investigating how we can ensure companies aim higher in getting demand lower.”