Save Water Save Wildlife

Written by Nathan Richardson

We know that many of our rivers, lakes and wetlands are in a perilous state but few of us stop to think when we turn on the kitchen tap or go for a shower how our individual actions are impacting the watery places we treasure. As part of Waterwise Water Saving Week Freshwater Friday on 3rd May we want to highlight this link and the things we can all do to make a difference.

Wetlands under pressure

Our UK rivers, lakes and wetlands are in trouble. More than half of the species that rely on them are in decline and a frightening 13% of our freshwater and wetlands species threatened with extinction.

More than 1 in 5 water bodies in England are either known to suffer unsustainable levels of abstraction or are considered at risk and are currently being investigated. The Water Industry National Environment Programme indicates that water company abstraction volumes need to be cut by over 700 Ml/d to address existing environmental problems. Looking forward we know that climate change will ramp up the pressure increasing the frequency of severe droughts and reducing summer and autumnal flows by around 15-20% in many rivers.

Our increasing thirst for water

Most of the water we abstract is supplied to households as treated drinking water and we are each using about 60% more of it every day than we did in the 1960’s (140 litres per person per day v 85 lppd). There are also 14 million more of us now in the UK. Put these two facts together and it means we are using an extra 4,820,000,000 litres of per day (4,820 Ml/d) compared to 1960! Over a year this additional water we are using equates to more than the total capacity of the 20 largest reservoirs in the UK.

All this water ultimately comes from the environment and the more we use the more we need to take from it. With another 8 million people expected to be living in the UK by 2050, on top of the pressures from a changing climate, we simply can’t go on like this. We have to act to avoid the “jaws of death” as Sir James Bevan phrased it in his recent speech at the Waterwise annual conference and that means reducing demand as well as securing supplies. 

We can all make a difference

The Waterwise mission is for water to be used wisely every day, everywhere. We believe we should be able to reduce our domestic water consumption down from 140 litres per person per day to less than 100 lppd. Why not set an ambitious long term target to get it back down to 85 lppd.

Based on the current population of the UK if we could achieve 85 lppd it would mean an incredible 3,630,000,000 litres (3,630 Ml/d) of extra water in the environment every day!! To put this saving context the summer low flow (Q95*) on the iconic chalk River Itchen at Highbridge is 259 Ml/d, the Chess is 15.5 Mld, the Cray is only 10 Ml/d and the Lark is 1.9 Ml/d. In fact, the water we would save by getting to 85 lppd is equivalent to the Q95 flow of over a third of the 1500 rivers on the UK National River Flow Archive put together. As the population grows in the future the savings do too.

Waterwise are calling on the UK government to:

  1. Set ambitious national targets for per capita consumption (PCC) supported by a cross-sector roadmap of how to get there;
  2. Implement a mandatory water labelling scheme to help us all choose more water efficient products; and
  3. Set tighter water efficiency standards for fittings used in new and existing houses.

But we can’t just rely on government, we all need to play our part. There are some simple things we can all do that will make a difference.

  1. Take a minute less in the shower to typically save 8 to 20 litres and to reduce you household energy bill by around £60
  2. Turn off that running tap when brushing your teeth to save around 6 litres a minute and fix that dripping tap to save around 5,300 litres per year. 
  3. Use a water butt to water the garden. A sprinkler or hosepipe will typically use around 1000 litres in an hour nearly tripling a typical households daily usage.

Using water wisely, every day everywhere….it sounds simple and to be honest it is. Take a moment on Freshwater Friday to think about the link between the water coming out of the tap and the environment that it is sourced from. Let’s all play our part in saving water and saving wildlife.

*Q95 flow is the flow that is exceeded for 95% of the time

References

  1. https://www.rspb.org.uk/globalassets/downloads/documents/conservation-projects/state-of-nature/state-of-nature-uk-report-2016.pdf
  2. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/water-abstraction-plan-2017/water-abstraction-plan-environment
  3. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/water-conservation-report-2018
  4. https://www.ofwat.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/The-long-term-potential-for-deep-reductions-in-household-water-demand-report-by-Artesia-Consulting.pdf
  5. http://nrfa.ceh.ac.uk/sites/default/files/HS_201902.pdf
  6. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/escaping-the-jaws-of-death-ensuring-enough-water-in-2050
  7. https://nrfa.ceh.ac.uk/data/station/meanflow/42010
  8. https://nrfa.ceh.ac.uk/data/search
  9. https://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/sites/default/files/reports/AtHomewithWater%287%29.pdf

Photo by Nathan Richardson