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Why water efficiency matters

splashes of water in the rain

In the UK, it’s easy to take for granted that water will flow out of the tap when you turn it on, now and into the future. But are things really that simple?

There’s a stark phrase commonly used in the water industry: the jaws of death. Simply put, it means the point where rising demand for water and falling supply meet i.e. there is not enough water to supply our needs. Timing-wise, this could be 20-25 years from now – but clearly, this is something that needs to be averted.

Water waste at home in the spotlight

Our At Home with Water report highlighted that domestic water use is a big part of a nation’s significant water demand – and there’s a lot of room for improvement in terms of our water-saving behaviours behind closed doors.

The average home uses 330 litres of the wet stuff a day, so it stands to reason that the accumulated actions of households across the country can make a big difference. There’s plenty of water-saving actions that can be taken at little or no expense – and the savings can be considerable.

What can you do to save water?

Man and woman drinking water from glasses

Replacing just a single bath a week with a five-minute shower can save up to £20 on energy bills and £25 on water bills if you’ve got a water meter, while using a bowl to wash your plates and cutlery twice a day instead of keeping the tap running can cut your annual gas bill by £25 and your metered water costs by £30.

The quantity of water potentially saved through small changes is also worthy of note: leaving taps running while brushing teeth or shaving sees six litres of water a minute go down the drain, while dripping taps waste well over 5,000 litres a year, for the sake of properly turning them off or replacing a washer.

Small investments in improved kit can also prove big savers. A water-efficient showerhead, for example, costs anything from around £15, but can bring total savings of a massive £185, accumulated from gas and water bills.

The tests ahead for water efficiency

Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, recently highlighted three key challenges around UK water supply: an operational challenge to make supply meet demand, the challenge of climate change and political challenges for the water industry.

The latter is perhaps less of a concern here – but it’s certainly worth noting an increase in the efforts of water companies to reach out on the issue of water efficiency. They can regularly be seen coming up with new ideas to help shore up supply and meet sustainability demands, from offering to fix leaky toilets for free to cash incentives for retailers that help their customers save water in water-stressed areas. Whatever the motivation, increased ambition and creativity is to be welcomed.

The link between energy and water cannot be ignored, including the debate around sustainable supply and demand. The energy used to heat water represents 20% of the average heating bill – that’s £135 a year. But beyond the savings available from changes in how we use our hot water, they also have very real implications in the fight against climate change, with each home emitting 18.6 metric tonnes of CO2 a year through water heating.

Water-saving charity Waterwise recently hailed an increased commitment to water efficiency from households and businesses – but it’s clear there’s still a long way to go if we’re to normalise the technologies and accompanying behaviour required to ensure a sustainable future. The beauty about water efficiency, though, is that change can come from both top and bottom: the water industry showing responsible stewardship of our supply, and all of us being that bit more conscious about how we use this most precious of resources.

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Gary Hartley's picture
Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.