“Water, water every where, nor any drop to drink!”
Standing around the trucks delivering water to our streets, melting in the heatwave, the hosepipe ban, the Drought Act by parliament ….. ohh those sultry days of 1976 bought communities together in adversity and raised many local issues of how to be more effective in storing water. Water butt sales soared.
Then 1995 was recorded as one of the hottest on record and even Ireland introduced a hosepipe ban impacting agricultural crop yields and many pristine residential lawns. We all stockpiled crisps just in case.
In April 2012 after two unusually dry winters, which left reservoirs, aquifers and rivers below normal levels, seven water companies across southern and eastern England imposed water restrictions. Fortunately, the London Olympics made sure people kept drinking lots of sponsored liquids!
Today we are on the verge of new water restrictions as again a sustained period of dry weather has pushed us to a critical water supply problem. Residential homes are being strongly advised to conserve water and the agricultural community are already feeling the impact of lower yields, early harvests, wildfires and many are having water tankered into their farms.
UK droughts can be divided into two categories, the meteorological drought where little or no rain fell over a relatively short period and the hydrological drought, where below average rainfall has occurred over an extended period. A hydrological drought can occur, after a dry winter whereby the soil moisture storage, reservoirs and water table have not risen sufficiently to satisfy the demand of warm summer weather.
So, are we adapting to these cyclical events or just accepting them?
We could spend billions on new reservoirs, however these have a history of being extremely hard to get through planning regulations, such as the proposed Abingdon site, plus who knows if we actually really need them here in the UK over the next 40 years. We are becoming more of a services based economy, than a heavy water intensive manufacturing one.
We could all drink desalinated water, with us living on an island and all that! But this is proving very expensive in terms of cost and the energy needed to purify water. The same for drinking grey water, recycled into tap water, after a few weeks in a treatment plant. This does have huge psychological issues for many people who worry how many times that same water has passed through their neighbours, hence the amazing rise in bottled spring water sales.
Public awareness to using less resources often takes generations to change opinions, especially when ‘they have never had it so good’ before. Water is associated in the UK to unlimited, cheap, accessible, clean and healthy use. This is not the same for many other countries where water is respected in other ways. We are on a programme today for more residential water meters and rising prices, albeit fairer if linked to usage.
The UK water industry investment in upgrading the water network, has two sides to the coin. On one hand the network is vast, complex and old with many interdependencies, such as natural waterways and biodiversity, meaning many ‘fixing a leak’ jobs end up as expensive engineering projects. On the other side the water companies have profits to make, staff to employ, shareholders and pension funds to please so that they can continue their network upgrade investments over the long term. There have been improvements in transporting water via pipes from the rural damper corners of the UK, to the drier more populated urban areas and certainly the water companies working together can keep the flow going pretty much the length and breadth of the UK.
Over the past ten years water usage has been high on many businesses ‘cost and efficiency’ initiatives, as have other resources such as energy, waste and recycling. Practical ways to save water across an operation is common place and although there are some exciting innovations around water turbines, that can contribute to the electrical grid, these are still fairly specialised in the UK. We particularly liked the whirlpool turbine that could be installed in a week and could power a small business unit. (See https://www.thisisinsider.com/whirlpool-turbine-water-energy-turbulent-belgian-green-energy-2018-2 ).
Mitigation to severe water shortages has not really been high on the UK’s political agenda but the frequency pattern of drought and excess may shift attitudes over the next ten years. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was, amongst other many literary synopsis, about the feast of a wedding and famine of a becalmed ship. In the UK our water supply is a similar story, too much water and we flood, too little and we go into drought. We therefore have two choices; accept and adapt to our water issues, or adapt and then accept!
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