The changes will give 1.2 million businesses and other non-household customers in England the freedom to switch water retailer. These provide customer-facing services including billing, meter reading and handling complaints and enquiries.
But the consumer watchdog is concerned that many businesses could miss out on the potential benefits of switching, with only eight per cent of customers currently aware of the changes. CCWater's research shows that awareness is particularly low among small and medium-sized businesses.
CCWater policy manager Evan Joanette said: "We don't want any business to miss out on potential benefits because they were unaware of these changes. The industry needs to work together to make sure customers understand how the market will operate and could affect their business. We'll be doing all we can to ensure this is the case."
Competition could open up opportunities for growers, manufacturers and other horticulture businesses, particularly among organisations that use a lot of mains water. Businesses might be enticed to switch to a new retailer that can help them manage mains water usage to deliver bill savings. Sites with irrigation may want help from a retailer that specialises in locating leaks. Even retail stores could benefit financially by receiving one single consolidated bill for all their sites.
Expert view - Proposed charges, competitive cost and smart metering
Nursery consultant John Adlam said: "At present a business can shop around for the best price from various providers of gas and electricity and now they will be able to do the same with water. This comes into force on 1 April 2017. It will not affect the pipe coming into the nursery or the meter.
"Many of the water companies are setting up a separate company for business water supply. I can find a few price examples of proposed charges after April 2017. South East Water, eastern region, £1.6264/cu m, which at present is £1.5884. I guess we will see a price increase in the cost of water but we now have the ability to shop around.
"We anticipate the cost of water will become competitive. It will also introduce a new concept — maximum demand. If you use more than 10,000cu m a year you will be placed on a tariff that takes account of sudden peaks of demand, like breakfast, lunch and tea. This means that growers would need to look at the size of their tanks to see if they can avoid taking water from the mains during those periods.
"Smart metering could, in response to a lower price, cut off the supply to the irrigation tank during peak-demand periods. This could be practical for growers to reduce the cost of mains water for irrigation. Water for washing, toilets and cafés would not be affected. It will also mean a garden centre or nursery may end up having two separate accounts for water and sewerage."