WATER USERS have pushed the government to bill farmers rather than consumers for proposed environmental improvements.

WaterVoice, which acts on behalf of water and sewerage company customers, said average water bills are due to rise by 29.2%, or £70 on average over the next five years.

The rise, said WaterVoice chairman Maurice Terry was to accommodate water company business plans that took account of new environmental regulations.

“The planned price rises are neither affordable nor acceptable,” said Mr Terry in letters to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Welsh Assembly.

“Government and Ofwat must take prompt action while there is still time.”

He called on DEFRA to “make an immediate start on reducing agricultural and non-agricultural diffuse pollution using the ‘polluter pays‘ principle”.

Government should also introduce measures to ensure low income families are not hit too hard by higher water bills, he added.

“Having sanctioned such a large environment programme, to be funded by customers, it is up to government to take policy responsibility for dealing with the social consequences,” said Mr Terry.

But the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds condemned the call for cuts in what it called a “much-needed” environmental improvement programme.

“Cuts would only save a few pence a week off quarterly bills, but would deprive the nation of up to £9 billion of economic benefits,” said RSPB senior water policy officer Phil Burston.