Midland families could face extra charges for washing their cars and hosing their gardens in a bid to help tackle water shortages.
Engineers called for meters to be introduced after warning that supplies were at a “critical” point – despite the wettest April on record which helped lift the region out of drought.
The Institution of Civil Engineers said there was little incentive for homeowners to change their water use to conserve stocks as they paid just £1-a-day for unlimited supplies.
The body said meters which charged more for high water use for non-essential activities such as cleaning the car, along with social tariffs to protect vulnerable customers, should be introduced.
It suggested water use in the home could be cut by around a third.
Each person in the UK uses an average 150 litres of water a day – 33 gallons – with many more times that amount needed to produce the food, drinks, clothes and other products used each day.
Michael Norton, chairman of the institution’s water panel, also said that while hosepipe bans had been used to cope with this year’s drought as a “short-term fix”, they were not a long-term solution.
“In our view, they should not be a feature of water supply in the UK in the future,” he said.
“Water security has reached a critical point and we believe the underlying reason for that is we haven’t taken a long-term strategic view about planning our water resources in the UK.”
He said water supplies were under pressure from a growing population and the changing climate.
And Mr Norton warned: “We think this is set to worsen unless action is taken, because we are still projecting population growth in the UK, especially in the South East, and we are yet to see the full impacts of climate change.”
He also said the UK was reliant on water resources in other countries, where supplies were often scarce, to produce food and goods consumed in this country.
The ICE called for a long-term strategic “roadmap” to be developed by spring 2014 for managing water resources in the UK up to 2025 to ensure security of supplies. It said other measures were also needed, ranging from the construction of new reservoirs and small scale water storage to making it easier to share resources between water companies and encouraging homeowners to save water.
And new properties could be built with systems that recycled rainwater for use in flushing toilets, which use around 30 per cent of the drinkable water supplied to homes.
The ICE also said urban areas should have drainage systems which retain rainwater so it could be stored or used to recharge groundwater levels, rather than just channelling it straight into drains and out into rivers.
But it ruled out the construction of a “national water grid” which could pipe water across the country from areas of high rainfall to places with high demand.
The ICE said such a system would be “extremely costly” and energy intensive and would take many years to construct – by which time the situation would have worsened.
The Environment Agency said last month that it remained concerned about groundwater supplies in the Midlands, despite April’s torrential rain “significantly” increasing river and reservoir levels.
But Severn Trent said it was proceeding with negotiations to sell water to the drought-hit Anglain region, which imposed its first hosepipe ban in 20 years earlier this year.
David Essex, water strategy manager, said: “We now know we are in a position to be able to help our neighbours while having enough to keep our own customers in supply.”