HALTON'S water customers could find themselves forking out for hugely increased water bills just to keep water services at their present level.
Water regulator Ofwat claims that price increases will be needed just to maintain improvements made over the past 15 years and, although water companies are expected to slash costs through efficiency improvements, the savings will not be enough to offset rising cost pressures.
Ofwat claims that the if proposals for £20 billion of new investment are confirmed then customers will end up paying a lot more.
Philip Fletcher, director general of water services, said: 'There is a clear challenge to water companies to show that their plans represent value for money for the customer and that they are properly sharing the risks. And there is a clear challenge to the quality regulators seeking major water quality improvements to justify them fully.
'Ministers will have some difficult decisions to make on whether all of the proposed drinking water improvements are essential and on the pace of delivery of those they agree are needed.
'If the programmes of work which each company will be expected to deliver re-main unchanged from those set out in the draft business plans then there can be little doubt that water bills will need to rise substantially.'
A group representing water customers, WaterVoice, has slammed the Government for leaving customers in the dark about the potential impact on water bills and claims it has failed to highlight WaterVoice as a body which must be consulted by the Environment Agency about plans concerning river management.
Investment increases are being proposed to meet water quality regulations imposed on Britain by the EU.
Maurice Terry, WaterVoice chairman, said: 'It remains far from clear even in general terms what level of costs will fall on water companies and what impact this could be expected to have on water bills.'
Mr Terry is demanding that other sources of funding should be found to cover the cost of water related environmental improvements.
He said: 'The bill for network rail and the mainline upgrades do not fall exclusively on the customer base since they are regarded as a national priority.
'The most recent figures were £3.6 billion for rail ticket sales compared to Government subsidy of £3.8 billion. Why is water different?
'Customers know that they have to pay for reliable and good quality water and sewerage services and are prepared to contribute to the costs of improving and protecting the water environment.
'But excessive increases in water bills risk turning customers against the water industry, against the environment and against the Government and risk increasing the already high levels of customer debt.'