The Habitat II conference (1996) reported that the level of 'unaccounted for' water in many cities exceeds 50%. Continued inadequate operation, maintenance and management of urban water systems invokes the development of more distant and more expensive additional water sources.
In 1997, it was estimated that 40 per cent of Britain's water supplies were wasted. An independent inquiry into a grossly mismanaged private water company in the UK in 1996 found that it had imposed drought orders that were not justified by lack of rainfall four times between 1985 and 1997. The fastest growing "usage" of water was shown to be leakage from the companies' own pipes. Typically, British water companies were losing more than a quarter of their water (comparable figures from Dutch and German companies were 2-5 per cent) before it ever reaches their customers.
When water was publicly owned in the UK, people felt a responsibility towards its use and conservation. After privatization they naturally decided that they were in a commercial relationship: if they had paid for water they could use it as they wanted.