Writing this in the midst of a heat wave seems all too relevant. I have been wondering for some time how it is that with all the new housing proposed for South East England that everyone will have enough water. It just seems impossible – unless we plan more seriously. Clearly water needs to be recycled and we have enough problems already with sewage in our rivers.
From a technical viewpoint, we are capable of cleansing water that has already been used sufficiently so that it is entirely safe to drink. Indeed anyone living in London is probably drinking water that has passed through eight people on its journey from the source of the Thames and the City of London. It is apparently quite safe to drink – although it may not taste or look so good.
How can we contribute?
How can we actually each use less water? Before concentrating on what we can each do within our own household, let me consider the main uses – other than drinking it. By buying water in bottles, we are drinking water from other places in the world, although most of our supply does come from other places – either from rivers or from deep down underground. Few of us store enough of our rainwater to save much of what we use and we tend to use it for watering plants. Our climate in the UK has obviously changed so that we are getting very hot dry summers and now much more rain in winter. Therefore it looks as though we are going to need to store much more water in winter – whether in reservoirs or rain butts.
So what can we do to save water in our household? Unfortunately the British invented the WC with its flushing mechanism in the days long before water shortages loomed on the horizon. It has become abundantly clear that the WC is unsuited to hot dry climates – although hotels in those countries do not stint on them and it is the locals who run short. A large proportion of our supply in the UK is lost to leaky pipes, about 3 billion litres. In fact we will need an extra 3.6 billion litres of supply by 2050. Will some of it come from stopping leaks, or from bringing water from a long distance away?
Usage for cleaning purposes
We all need water for cleaning (ourselves and our houses). We need much more for cleaning than we need for drinking. We each need 2 litres to drink each day and… for cleaning purposes and other purposes we use over 140 litres* – while in Germany the average use is 120 litres per day.
We know that having a shower is more economical than having a bath (although you can use the bathwater for soaking and washing your clothes thereafter). Some of us have been told that we shouldn’t either wash-up or clean our teeth under a running tap. You certainly don’t do it when camping. Most of us do not believe that short loo flushes do much to save water. It would be better if people realised that they shouldn’t flush the loo in their own house when they have just had a pee, rather than something more. This is well known to Germans, but apparently not taught in the UK.
I suspect that we will need a lot more education in schools about saving water.
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Use less water by recycling grey water
I am amazed that new houses and flats are not already fitted with recycling tanks for “grey water” – so that all loos are flushed with water that has previously passed through a shower or bath. I tried to buy such a system recently on the internet and they don’t exist in the UK. (Actually now they do exist, but are well above the price range of most householders, at over £3,000.) That should be within the possibility for developers – if made mandatory. Surely this is something our next governments should legislate on? There is much talk of sustainable new housing **, but one of the things that concerns people about new housing estates is whether the local sewage system can cope. Now we have another worry – whether there will be enough water for everyone in the South East of England!
Editor’s Notes. Water shortage in Kent is very much in the news. Challock and Molash have been without water since 2pm on Saturday 16 July, with bottled water being distributed by South East Water at Challock Village Hall. The company’s website gave advice in mid-July on saving water, pointing out that in hot weather demand goes up 50%.
On the question of whether there will be enough water, details of this, area by area, can be found in a 2017 report.
*The Waterwise report of 2017 gives per capita use in the South East as 161 litres per household in 2015-16. The same report states that that Part G of the 2010 Building Regulations allows for only **125 litres per household, but this should be only 110 litres according to Waterwise.