The next time you head for the power shower, think again. While sometimes it seems like it never stops raining and we shouldn’t be short of water in the UK, consider this. In England and Wales, there is only 1334 cubic metres of water available per person per year. That’s about half the amount that hotter countries like Italy and Spain have. In the Thames Valley, in southern England, there are only 266 cubic metres per person – that just 20% of the average for England and Wales.
In England and Wales:
· The amount of water used pe household has risen by 70% over the last 30 years –mainly due to the introduction of appliances that use a lot of water, like washing machines and dishwashers
· Only 66% of households owned a washing machine in 1972 but, by 2010, that figure was 94%
· Water is mostly used for washing and for flushing the toilet but also for drinking, cooking, washing the car and watering the garden
· The average person currently uses 150 litres of water every day (but this ranges from 107-166 litres, with the very highest use in the south-east England) – by comparison, someone in Africa uses on average 47 litres a day, while someone in the USA uses on average 578 litres.
Water stress in the UK
The UK is a crowded island, and we’re not evenly spread out.
UK population density map
UK rainfall map
Rainfall (which is where our freshwater comes from) also doesn’t fall evenly across the UK – the west is wetter, and the south and east drier
UK water stress map
The Environment Agency has described most of south-east England as suffering from ‘serious water stress’.
Water stress happens when the amount of water available isn’t enough to meet the demand, or is of poor quality and differences in the distribution of rainfall and population can lead to areas of deficit and surplus.
· Areas of deficit do not have enough rainfall, or water
· Areas of surplus have more water than they need
West Wales, for example, has a high rainfall but a low population density, and therefore it has a water surplus.
The UK’s population is growing – in 2008, it was estimated to be 61.4 million, and was expected to increase by 10 million by 2033 and by a further 10 million – to
over 80 million – by 2050
More people mean more housing – and increasing demands for water. The largest increase in demand is expected to be in regions of the UK, where water use is already high like the south-east.
By 2020, the demand for water could be about 5% higher than it is today. That’s a staggering 800 million litres of water a day. Not only will individual and household water
use increase, but so will industrial use (e.g. in the building industry) and agricultural use (e.g. for irrigating crops).
Temperatures could also rise due to global warming and so drought and water shortages could become morecommon, especially in the South of the UK
Managing or water supplies
Kielder Water fact file
· Kielder Water in Northumberland is the biggest man-made reservoir in northern Europe
· It is 12km long and up to 52 metres deep
· It cost£167 million to build and was completed in 1982
· It was built to meet an expected increase in water demand from north-east England –because of the rising population there and the expected growth of the steel and
chemical industries. However, these industries haven’t grown as expected; in fact they’ve declined
· It is a water-transfer scheme (water is transferred from one area to another). The water from the reservoir is released into the Rivers Tyne, Derwent, Wear and Tees. This helps to maintain river flows when levels are low. Extra water can also be released for household and industrial use
· Kielder Water can provide up to 909 million litres of water a day (almost as much as all the other sources in the region added together)
Kielder Water: advantages and disadvantages
Kielder Water has brought both benefits and disadvantages to the area.
The need for water transfer
Kielder Water is a major water-transfer scheme. Before it was completed, the British government considered setting up a ‘national water grid’ (like the electricity grid) to transfer water from areas of the country with a surplus (e.g. Wales), to areas with a deficit (e.g. the south-east). This idea became popular in the 1970s, because of drought, but it didn’t happen in the end. By 2006, a national water grid was being talked about again – after some lengthy dry periods, and when the impacts of climate change became clearer. So
far, it still hasn’t happened.
The need for sustainable supplies
The Environment Agency’s view about water is that: ‘We need to plan so that there are sustainable, reliable water supplies for people and businesses’. It is also concerned about protecting the environment. Some of the ways in which the Environment Agency thinks our water supplies can be more sustainable are listed below:
· Increase the use of rainwater harvesting, and grey water recycling for agriculture industry and commercial use
· Make new homes more water efficient
· Install water meters in all homes
· Reduce water leakage from pipes and reservoirs
· Consider the needs of the environment, wildlife, fisheries and recreation when allocating water resources
· Share water resources where there is a surplus
· Make appliances like washing machines and dishwashers more efficient
· Charge more for water to encourage people to use it in a sustainable way