Britons are being urged to take shorter showers and avoid pre-rinsing before loading the dishwasher after fears water demand could soon outstrip supply.
Despite the country’s reputation for being rainy and wet, a new report backed by the government’s Environment Agency calls for urgent water-saving action.
The UK could face water shortages by the middle of this century due to climate change, which is causing drier summers, and a growing population.
But most Brits think we have enough water to meet our needs and many engage in high wastage behaviours, such as leaving the taps running.
The new report follows one of its driest Mays on record in the UK, although wet spells this month have provided some relief.
Despite our reputation for being wet and rainy, The Great British Rain Paradox, highlights how climate change and a growing population are putting strain on UK water resources. It also uncovers Brits’ perceptions of water and water use habits. Not leaving the tap running is one obvious way of addressing a possibly severe water shortage this century
Nevertheless, the new report asks people to make small changes to their every-day routines, such as taking shorter showers and fewer baths, not leaving taps running, and avoiding pre-rinsing dishes if they’re going in the dishwasher.
Today, daily household water usage per person is on average 143 litres, or around 250 pints, up from 85 litres per person per day in the 1960s, according to stats from discoverwater.co.uk and Ofwat, the government’s water regulating body.
TIPS ON HOW TO REDUCE WATER CONSUMPTION
– Don’t leave taps running – even for just a short while.
– Take baths less frequently. When you do have a bath, don’t fill the tub right to the top.
– Spend less time in the shower. Keep a small bucket in your shower to collect water, which could be used to water plants.
– Don’t pre-rinse dishes if you’re putting them into the dishwasher anyway. Fill the dishwasher to full capacity before turning it on.
– Don’t needlessly flush the toilet – it’s the second-largest user of water in the home, after the shower.
– Restrict the use of hoses and sprinklers – they use water equivalent to more than 12 baths an hour.
– Look out for water efficiency when buying your next washing machine.
If no substantial action is taken between 2025 and 2050 to reduce water consumption, around 3,400 million extra litres of water per day will be needed to meet future demand, the report claims.
‘People might wonder how a country with such a reputation for rain like the UK could reach a tipping point where demand for water outstrips supply in just 25 years,’ said Sir James Bevan, chief executive of England’s Environment Agency.
‘But this may become a reality if we don’t take action to save water now.
‘The fact is a convergence of factors underpinned by climate change has led us to this frightening prospect.
‘But if we all take concerted action now we can ensure that there will be enough water to go around for generations to come.’
For the report, which was supported by the water-saving campaign Love Water, 2,000 British adults were asked about their attitudes to and perceptions of water and its consumption.
The report, which includes insights from Cranfield University near Bedford, revealed 77 per cent of respondents think the UK is a ‘wet and rainy country’ – but this perception is ‘wrong’.
While as many as 88 per cent said they would be willing to reduce their daily water consumption by a third ‘if they knew how’.
‘Depending on where you live in the UK, it can feel like it’s a very rainy country, so it might be a surprise for many people that we have less available water than a lot of other nations,’ said Christine McGourty, chief executive of trade association Water UK, which represents the major water companies of the UK.
Despite the perception of a water-rich nation, a myriad of factors are putting strain on the UK’s water supply, such as a love of deep baths after a long working day
‘So, whatever the weather, we want to make the most of this vital resource and think carefully about the water we use, for now and for future generations.
‘Just by making simple changes, like turning off the tap when you brush your teeth or taking shorter showers, we can all make a big difference.’
The south of England is facing the greatest pressures on public water supplies, the report said, which could be threatened by droughts.
In particular, the south east of England actually gets less rainfall than some parts of east Africa, according to McGourty.
The new report also reveals that water usage is also low on the list of current environmental concerns possessed by the public.
When asked for their top environmental concerns, only 10 per cent of respondents selected water usage.
Other concerns that were more frequently cited by respondents as their biggest worry were plastic pollution, cited by 39 per cent, energy consumption (22 per cent), food waste (16 per cent) and carbon footprint (11 per cent).
The report explains that making small, everyday changes at home are vital to avoiding future pressures on our water supplies, such as avoiding pre-rinsing dishes before loading a dishwasher
The report also found changing attitudes to water since the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the country.
The virus has likely meant more water going down the plughole to help keep our hands virus-free, as per the government guidelines to clean our hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds.
Since the lockdown started late March, 83 per cent of the survey respondents now have a greater appreciation of access to clean running water for hand-washing.
82 per cent said they appreciate the natural world more, likely due to being cooped up indoors as part of social distancing measures, while 69 per cent are more concerned about the environment and sustainability.
More than three quarters – 76 per cent – are more aware of human impact on the environment, while 67 per cent are more willing to take action to reduce their impact on the planet.
Love Water supports the ambition of ‘clean and plentiful water’ as set out in the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, which aims to reduce individual water use by setting a personal consumption target, which is yet to be announced.