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Holy drip! It’s a drought – how will you save water?

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced an official state of drought for much of the southern and eastern parts of England. Will you take up the challenge to save water?

When I wrote my Conversation about how much water you could save by cutting your shower time in half, commenter Janice asked:

‘Since when was saving water such an imperative in Britain? I know it’s been a bit dry this year, but normally we can rely on plenty of rain, and I’m never sure why we should be so careful with the wet stuff.’

Well, now we know why. Due to very low rainfall for the past two years, areas from Hampshire and all the way up to Lincolnshire are in drought. In fact, groundwater levels are lower than the dry summer of 1976 (I’m taking their word for that, as I’m afraid I don’t remember it).

Farmers are warning that food prices may have to go up, with the drought even predicted to have an effect on the London Olympic Games’ water supplies.

It’s not just about water suppliers

So, how are we going to get through this drought (which some have warned will become the norm for the South East)? Well, aside from the bombastic idea to pipe water from the wet north down to the dry south, water companies are planning hosepipe bans from early spring.

But we’re all being asked to do more than just limit our use of water outdoors. Environment secretary Caroline Spelman said after this week’s drought summit:

‘It is not just the responsibility of government, water companies and businesses to act against drought. We are asking for the help of everyone by urging them to use less water and to start now.’

So, are you going to take up the challenge to save water? If so, how? There’s lots you can do, such as fixing leaky taps, or fitting a water-saving ‘hippo’ in your toilet’s cistern to cut the amount of water you use to flush.

In fact, old toilets – like the ones in my house – use so much water when they’re flushed. Toilets made before 1993 apparently typically use about 9.5 litres to flush. That compares to around 7.5 litres for toilets made after 1993. You can even get loos that use as little as two litres per flush, so it might be worth an upgrade.

Simple water saving steps

On a more day-to-day level you can cut water usage by: turning off the tap when you brush your teeth; drinking from a jug in the fridge rather than waiting for your tap to run cold; and fully filling your washing machine rather than doing more smaller washes. And commenter Lessismore even thinks we should wash less often:

‘Why do we feel we need to wash so often nowadays? What was wrong with the twice daily wash and weekly bath? […] We seem to be showering/bathing every day and washing our clothes after each time we wear them.’

Now, to stop myself from becoming too preachy – I’m not the best at saving water myself. One of my big sins is doing the washing up with a running tap, rather than putting soapy water in a bowl – I just prefer clean running water to my dishes floating around in their own muck.

Still, that’s on my list of bad habits to change. Are there any water-wasting habits you’re looking to break in order to get us all through this drought?

@EvidenceMatters says:
24 February 2012

It’s difficult to re-use water in parts of the UK. There are regulations that restrict the temporary impounding of water (eg, water waste from the house) and inhibit the development of retrofit solutions that might assist those who want to reduce their water use beyond the usual recommendations of fitting a Hippo to the water tank and reducing the use of the lavatory flush.

I’ve outlined some of the things that I’ve done that I discussed with Which? in a Twitter exchange. http://sfy.co/bxs

I’ve also constructed some self-irrigating raised beds to reduce water consumption in the garden. These have been successful but I would feel more comfortable about them if it were possible to use grey water rather than drinking quality water.

Build desalination plants AND infrastructure projects to transfer water
to London and other drier parts of the country from regions richer in

Don’t believe in the palaver and inconveniences associated with a hosepipe
ban or anyone telling me to restrict my use of water in the wider societal/community
interests. Amounting to telling me how to lead my own lifestyle, putting unjustified
constraints thereto and unreasonably interfering therewith.

Mind you, the water companies are not exactly short of funds
or borrowing potential to invest in new projects that shd have been
done decades/long ago.

Nah… feel no guilt at all in the way I elect to use water the way I want
it, something I’ve paid for and had probably considerably underused in
years past.

Of course, do not waste water.

There is no shortage of water round here but I stopped watering the garden with the hose after attending an Environment Agency presentation and discovering how valuable a resource water is.

I’m with Patrick on having clean plates and cutlery. I rub them with a soapy cloth and rinse them with hot water. I have checked and found that I use less water and washing up liquid than people who use a sink full of soapy water.

In Japan and various other cultures I cd name, cookware, lacquered chopsticks,
plates, bowls ecetera after use are ALWAYS rinsed in clean (what else?)
running water from the tap after being washed in liquid detergent-added water
in a washing bowl or the sink. Unthinkable otherwise and on grounds of
hygiene. And none of the residual dirty soapy water stuff drying onto the
surfaces of course. And bacteria?

Has to be said, increasingly disposable plain wooden chopsticks are being
used thus contributing to the destruction of rain forests in Borneo, sorry slightly

More rubbish again and being told “can’t do this” and “can’t do that”.

There is more water on Earth than land! If the government stopped being lazy and invested in a proper water network and maybe sea desalination plants, we could enjoy unlimited water – because water IS unlimited. The environmentalists don’t like people having unlimited resources and don’t like people living a modern healthy lifestyle and feel such people should be punished by paying more or doing without.

I will use as much water as I need everyday and I don’t waste water either. I won’t use less and I won’t listen to what environmentalists say.

Sophie Gilbert says:
25 February 2012

I have no intention of ever wasting water anymore than wasting food, or anything else for that matter, if I can help it.

However, like with so many other subjects, it is difficult to know where the happy medium is when you listen to harbingers of doom and doubting thomases.

Gerard Phelan says:
25 February 2012

“There’s plenty of water around…”, “water companies should invest in…” , “proper water network”, “desalination plant”. Fine ideas – for someone and somewhere else. I recall reading about protests over every plan to build a new reservoir, protests over extraction of water from rivers, protests about industrial developments (=desalination plant) by the seaside, protests about building or continuing to use the power stations / wind turbines / barrages that would be needed to power desalination plants. Locally in Surrey there were such angry protests over a new water pipeline that the water company was forced to reroute it under the A217 and annoy the drivers with roadworks for years. In Wales there were huge protests over a new Gas Pipeline from Milford Haven. Just imagine the scale of protests over the massive water pipelines or new canals needed to make a difference. Go and look at the mark the Elan Valley pipeline still makes on the landscape 100 years after it was built to feed Welsh water to Birmingham. A new canal would have as big an impact on the landscape as another HS2 railway.

I wish solutions were easier.

par ailleurs says:
26 February 2012

Dear me! Some strong emotions running here. A moment’s thought will reveal that we in the south of the country are living in a world of denial when it comes to water. We are building more and more houses and the amount of the precious stuff available remains more or less constant. Not only that but we also use water at an increasingly profligate rate compared to the days of my youth in the fifties. Of course the ready availabilty of fresh water for consumption and personal hygiene is a mark of a civilised society. I wouldn’t necessarily want to return to the standards with which I grew up (No bathroom and 1 outside toilet). However, it beggars belief that water technology hasn’t kept up with our increasing demands. Why do we still flush the loo with perfectly good, potable water? Why do domestic systems waste litres just waiting for the hot tap to run at a decent temperature? Why do we expect to let valuable rainwater run off into the drains or soakaway and then forget it? There needs to be a sea change in attitudes from consumers and from the legislative authorities to ensure that we change our ways. Why have this recurring situation of drought or near drought and then not do a thing to change house design?
OK, I’m retired and can do more e.g. flushing with saved bath water, collecting rain water for the garden and not bothering with the vanity of a green, manicured lawn. But a lot of work is needed whether building new reservoirs without 10 years of public consultation and delaying tactics from NIMBYs or actually discovering if there could be a future for desalination plants etc. Ultimately something will have to be done and I would much rather it was done sensibly and gradually for the good of all and for future generations.

“Why do domestic systems waste litres just waiting for the hot tap to run at a decent temperature?”

Probably because we don’t have a hot water tanks anymore and now have a combi boilers. If you are using the tap furthest from the boiler then it takes quite a long time to get there. I have never run so much water off than I have since the new boiler – and we do have some insulation. You’re a social pariah if you want to keep your old boiler running and are likely to find the plumber or gas engineer won’t repair it because it uses too much CO2.

We might take the idea of a drought more seriously and restrict our use of water in the shower if we didn’t see water from broken water pipes rushing down the street for days on end. Thames Water please get your act together.

The big users of water are not people cleaning their teeth and flushing the loo but agriculture and horticulture: looking for bigger crop yields and more fulsome flowers, these industries use vast quantiries of water, much of it in regions with low rainfall. Water swells the crops grown in the east which are then, after processing, consumed in the big cities. The water contained within the foodstuff eventually finds its way to the waste treatment plant and after purification is reintroduced into the water supply. Not all of it unfortunately – a lot goes into the rivers and watercourses below the water intakes and flows out to the sea. Ultimately, of course, it evaporates and falls as rain – probably where it isn’t needed!. Of course, now that we import much greater volumes of fruit and vegetables, beers, lagers and wines from other countries we could actually increase our water resources if we harvested the waste more efficiently so it got recycled..

I don’t waste water. I only put the dishwasher on when it’s totally full, take short showers and don’t leave taps running, only use the washing machine with full loads etc. I think a little common sense would save water rather than putting restrictions in place.

As an eczema sufferer, I need to use extra water when it comes to using the washing machine. As common with all new washing machines, water use in the rinse cycles is so low that if I don’t re-rinse everything then I will itch and my skin suffers. Even pressing the “extra rinse” button every time makes no difference – dark clothes still show white streaks of un-rinsed detergent. I know from reading about this problem on the internet that other sufferers with sensitive skin have to re-rinse washloads to avoid itching and not use fabric softeners. This leaves 3 points: I avoid wasting water and because I’m careful with water, I don’t need to be told to use less; the water I save means I don’t feel “guilty” about running extra rinse cycles to stop my eczema making me itch; if washing machines used the RIGHT amount of water to rinse properly, people like myself would not need to do entire extra rinse cycles – maybe I’m using more water doing this instead of using a washing machine which does rinse PROPERLY? Before anyone tells me to try different detergents or products – I’ve done that and it makes no difference, only extra rinsing does.

Using less detergent could help. My experience is that the manufacturers recommend a lot more than is needed.

It seems crazy that modern washing machines don’t rinse properly but we flush large amounts of drinking water down the toilet. I am fortunate that my 30 year old washing machine does rinse properly.

Never use a dishwasher – the amount of water used to wash my crockery daily is tiny..

My new washing machine rinses properly.

How much water is needed to rinse a washload properly? I’m sure other factors are involved such as spinning and other technical things besides water volume?

I have repeatedly asked Which? to consider changing how they allocate “Best Buys” to washing machines – any washing machine that does not rinse properly should not be awarded a “Best Buy”, even if that poor-rinsing washing machine performs brilliantly on all other tests and uses little electricity.

Until then, many people with sensitive skin can only cure it by using less detergent than recommended – which could cause limescale build-up and may not clean properly – and by rinsing everything again, which could mean using more water than a washing machine which does rinse properly. Towels are the worst and feel like sandpaper unless properly rinsed and towels soak up so much water!

@wavechange You are very lucky to have a 30 year old washing machine that still works and rinses properly. That is more environmentally friendly than replacing new washing machines every 5 – 7 years when they break down and cost too much to repair.

It’s not just luck, David. I live alone and use my machine only twice a week. I have also replaced the motor and pump once, and done a temporary repair on the door catch, which has lasted five years so far.

I live in a hard water area (though not nearly as hard as it was when I bought my machine). I do not use any form of water softener and I use about half the recommended amount of detergent. Have a look at the Which? Conversation about Calgon and you may not worry about limescale.

Interesting when I stated that I let my dogs lick the plates before washing them to save food and water – I was told it was “disgusting” – I have tried to be very frugal with water – ever since it was clear that increasing population is causing severe shortages in the 1960s – using minimal amounts for domestic use. I remain healthy.

There is no shortage of water, only a lack of ability of water suppliers to collect and keep water.
As for me as a consumer saving water, one not on a metered supply, yes ok I’ll use less you charge me less in water rates.
I think the biggest saving though would be made if the water suppliers patched up their very leaky supply system as a first step. This could and should be followed by building a few more reservoirs to solve the problem on a more permanent basis.

We might also encourage more the installation of “grey water” and “rain water” systems in our homes. It always seemed daft, and very wasteful, to me that we flush the loo with drinking water.

Sadly there is a shortage of water in the south east – due to very low rainfall for two years and this year looks as though it will be the same – We have a drought here. The reservoirs are becoming dry.. They have made tremendous strides in getting the leaks sorted in the last few years..

The problem is that there is a north south divide in rainfall – North has more than adequate rainfall – the south doesn’t – What is needed is cross link pipes connecting the dry south with the wet north. The trouble is the water companies are separate companies and will not cooperate. That is why the water boards should be nationalised.

Isn’t it time to remove the standing charge and pay solely for water used. Then saving water would be financially beneficial as well.

hilary sheppard says:
18 May 2012

What about leaks, road leaks , house leaks, you can ring and ring, nobody bothers, its very wearing, they say okay, but they are really slow to act, arrive 5 hrs, all that water