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Why people in the UK need to get wise to water use

16 March 2023

With water supplies under increasing pressure it is time to get serious about reducing water demand.

Why people in the UK need to get wise to water use
Waterwise published a strategy for improving the UK's water efficiency to 2030. Image credit: Waterwise

Water deserves to be valued and used wisely.

It gives us life; brings us joy; helps grow the food we eat and supports the environment we cherish.

Just imagine what it would be like for just one day without it being on tap when we wanted it.

But this risk could be a reality if we don’t act.

Study after study over the last five years has found that we face a huge water supply deficit in England.

The deficit amount would be around 4,500 million litres a day (Mld) in England if we want to have secure water supplies and a healthy environment in the face of climate change and population growth.

Part of the reason for the deficit is that we’re using more water…a lot more water.

Personal water use in England has risen by around 60% since the 1960s and there are around 13 million more of us living here.

The net effect is that, overall, we’re using around 5,000 Mld more in our homes now than 60 years ago.

Time for solutions

We urgently need solutions.

The draft regional and water company water resource management plans recently out for consultation propose a range of supply side schemes to address the 4,500 Mld deficit.

These include storing more water in new reservoirs; moving water around the country through water transfers and building new desalination plants around the coast.

But the plans also include ambitious programmes to halve the deficit by reducing water demand.

This includes tackling leakage, which currently wastes more than a fifth of the drinking water put into supply, and reducing household and non-household consumption through greater water efficiency.

Using the water that we already have more efficiently is not just needed to secure water supplies.

It helps bring down GHG emissions (around 5% of UK emissions are due to water supply and use)

It leaves more water in the environment and can help with the cost of living crisis reducing both our water and energy bills. Around 10-15% of a typical household energy bill is due to heating water for use in taps and showers.

It helps ensure that the water keeps flowing when we have extreme high temperature events, which are becoming more frequent with climate change.

During these events, water demand sky rockets to the point where water companies can struggle to get the water through their networks fast enough to meet demand.

The Waterwise UK Water Efficiency Strategy

Waterwise 10 strategic objectives to ensure resiliency
10 strategic objectives for improving the UK's water resilience. Image credit: Waterwise

Water efficiency NGO Waterwise recently published the UK Water Efficiency Strategy to 2030, co-created with input from over 100 organisations including governments, regulators, water industry, businesses and environmental NGOs.

The previous Waterwise Strategy won the ICE Chris Binnie award in 2018.

The new refreshed strategy highlights why we need to use water efficiently and sets out 10 strategic objectives where we need to see progress.

They include:

  • More supportive policy.
  • Awareness raising and behaviour change.
  • Practical measures to reduce water wastage, such as sorting out leaking toilets and rolling out smart water meters.

The strategy highlights how a combination of water efficiency actions can save over 1,500 Mld by 2030, making a huge dent in the deficit.

What water companies are doing to address the water deficit

As highlighted earlier, the water companies in England and Wales recently published their draft water resource management plans.

Most of them are significantly stepping up investment in demand management, including plans to roll out smart water meters over the next 10 years.

Smart meters provide hourly or sub-hourly near real-time data on water use.

They enable in-property leaks to be quickly spotted and allow water companies to engage in a much more relevant, targeted way with their customers on water consumption.

What the UK government is doing to address the water deficit

As well as seeing welcome investment planned by the water companies in their draft water resource plans, we are also seeing some really positive developments from the UK government.

For the first time, we will have a statutory target in England to bring down water demand as part of the Environment Act.

We have a commitment to introduce a mandatory water efficiency label on water using products like showers, taps and dishwashers, so that specifiers and shoppers will know what products are water efficient and which ones aren’t.

And as part of the Environment Improvement Plan, the government has indicated it will review water efficiency standards in Building Regulations and link requirements for SUDs to opportunities for water reuse.

Time to get involved

So far so good.

But what stands out in the strategy is that as water users, we ALL need to play a part in reducing water demand.

We can all do more to make sure we are using water wisely and not wasting water in our workplaces, jobs and in our home life.

Water really is worth saving, and if we can crack it then we’ll see the benefits for people, business and the environment.

If you want to find out how you can save water, take a look at the tips on the Waterwise website.

Why don’t you encourage your employer to go for the Waterwise Checkmark, which recognises efforts to make your workplace more water efficient?

Sign up to the Waterwise monthly water efficiency newsletter bringing you the latest news and insights.

  • Dr Nathan Richardson, head of policy and strategy at Waterwise
  • Jo Osborn, projects and policy manager at Waterwise