The UK Water Shortage; How We Can Make Wasting Water Socially Unacceptable
Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson
Speaking at the Waterwise Conference in London, head of the Environment Agency Sir James Bevan likened tackling the water shortage facing the UK to “escaping the jaws of death”. In his address, he warned that England will not have enough water to meet demand within 25 years, a fact that was published in the Environment Agency’s July report that, despite its implications, has largely gone unaddressed.
Bevan wants wasting water to become “as socially unacceptable as blowing smoke in the face of a baby”. (BBC) He continued:
“We all need to use less water and use it more efficiently,”
A water shortage in a developed country like ours seems almost impossible, yet the unfortunate combination of global warming with a growing population have led to a shrinking supply.
There are, of course, actions being taken by the government, water companies and regulators, but what can we do as individuals?
Bevan wants to raise awareness of our water use and in doing so, urge the public to use less water and use it more efficiently.
Currently, people in England use 140 litres of water a day. Bevan is calling on citizens to cut their usage to 100 litres; the target set by Waterwise, which campaigns for water efficiency.
By doing the following, Bevan argues, we can all have a real impact on the water crisis:
- Get a low-flush toilet
- Take short showers, not deep baths
- Use the most efficient shower-head
- Get a water-efficient washing machine
- Don’t use your dishwasher until it’s full
- Turn the tap off when brushing your teeth
- Don’t water your lawn (it will survive)
“If by 2050 we reduced per capita consumption to 100 litres a day, leakage by 50%, and did nothing else, it would provide enough water for an additional 20 million people without taking any more from the environment.”
In addition to the difference that can be made by individuals, Bevan also called on the water industry for a big push on maximising its supply, including:
- Water transfers between regions, from areas of water surplus to areas of deficit
- Desalination plants that convert brackish water from into clean drinking water
- New reservoirs to be built to hold water for use in times of severe water stress
“We have not built a new reservoir in the UK for decades, largely because clearing all the planning and legal hurdles necessary is so difficult and local opposition so fierce.”
Adrian Butler, a reader in the Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College London, explained that the solutions thus far have formed a two pronged approach:
“We have to look at it with a range of options – so increasing supply and reducing demand. Reducing demand includes looking at leakage, which is a major challenge for Thameswater for example, as a quarter of their water supply is being lost.” (Wired)
Butler also highlighted the importance of raising awareness and education regarding water use and misuse, saying:
“It’s also about education – we have to teach people that water doesn’t just fall from the sky. Part of a project that I’m leading is about getting people involved in decision making, helping people understand what the impact of runoff is, helping them collect rainwater so they don’t draw from the mains.”
Coming from the uniquely privileged position of water abundance, many UK residents have never experienced water shortages, with the last UK drought taking place in 1976.
As a society, many of us have made positive changes to reduce our environmental impact, for example our reduction of single-use plastics. Thus, a significant part of the problem lies in our lack of awareness of the finite nature of our water supply, so we must do what we can to spread the word that wasting water is socially unacceptable.