Drivers have been delayed by more than 200,000 roadworks caused by faulty pipes in the last three years, newly released data suggests.
The figures show that an average of 159 roadworks have been carried out every day since the start of 2020 because of leaks.
A series of information requests by the Liberal Democrats showed an uptick in leaks causing roadworks between 2020 and 2022, with an increase of 5,619 from 60,609 in 2020 to 66,228 in 2022, a near 10% jump.
The total number of roadworks caused by leaks since January 2020 is 208,407, according to the party’s analysis.
Tim Farron MP, the Lib Dems’ environment spokesman, said: “The water companies have caused misery right across the country. From pumping out raw sewage into our waterways to now causing traffic jams, they are a complete shambles.
“Whilst they have been stuffing their pockets with dividends and bonuses, people have suffered at their lack of investment in infrastructure.
“It is time to get tough with the water companies, something the Conservatives have refused to do. That means creating a new regulator with teeth that can hold these firms to account.
“These companies need to know that they can no longer take people for granted.”
The Lib Dems are calling for water regulator Ofwat to be abolished and replaced with a new, more powerful regulator aimed at ensuring water companies carry out repairs swiftly.
Data gathered by the opposition party was provided in different formats by different water companies.
Some provided data on the number of carriageway excavations needed to carry out works on faulty pipes, and in one instance this included digging up pavements.
Thames Water meanwhile provided information via its repairs contractor, and others like Trent Water and United Utilities said they did not hold the data.
A spokesman for Water UK, the trade body which represents water companies, said: “Leaks can occur for a variety of reasons and companies use a variety of innovative techniques, including robotics and artificial intelligence, to find and fix them.
“Climate change is making this even more challenging with extremes of hot or cold weather causing pipes to move and expand or contract leading to bursts. Many leaks occur under road surfaces, requiring road works to fix them. When this happens, water companies always try to minimise any disruption to road users.
“While leakage has reduced by a third since the 1990s water companies recognise there is much more to do. Each company has plans in place to reduce leakage year on year to meet the ambitious sector target of a 50% reduction by 2050.”
A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said: “Rather than wasting time abolishing regulators, we are making sure there is more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement across our water system.
“This includes increasing funding for Ofwat, giving them new powers, setting strict targets on reducing leaks and changing the law so that polluters face unlimited penalties.
“Repairing and replacing leaking pipes is critical to maintaining a clean and reliable supply of drinking water to homes and businesses.
“Water companies are required to apply for a permit before planned works can begin which allows works to be co-ordinated to minimise the disruption to the public.”