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Sustainability Pathway 2024 May – Sustainable Water Use

Today the UK has an average direct water use of 150 litres/day per person. In 1985 this was 90 litres/day. So, water use in the UK has increased substantially over the last 40 years. There are many reasons as to why, here are some…

  • The UK population has increased 20% since 1985 so total consumption has increased.

  • Personal habits have changed, people shower more regularly. Historically people would have had less frequent baths, often sharing the water with family members.

  • People are wealthier so have more water-intensive machines such as dishwashers, washing machines and even power washers. Also they own more cars to wash!

  • Farm usage has gone up as irrigation systems improve and consumers demand out-of-season food which needs watering in greenhouses.

  • Industrial uses of water have increased, as has our use of water in producing electricity.

But where does it all go?

Source: Energy Savings Trust, At Home with Water


Our region uses a 50/50 split between reservoir and ground water sources. Thankfully over the last year both sources of our water reserves are approaching normality:

Source: Anglian Water


Over the last few years our region has suffered from drought, leading at times to hosepipe bans. A hosepipe ban is not an emergency measure, it is considered a “nudge” aiming for a 10% reduction in water use. Currently no hosepipe ban is foreseen for 2024.


Houses with water meters generally use 10% less water. Economically it can be slightly different. If the number of occupants ls lower than the number of bedrooms, then, a water meter is likely to reduce the bills. You can watch your water consumption using your water meter.

  • Unfortunately most water meters are now fitted into the footpath/pavement outside your house so it’s not particularly convenient to read them regularly. However, the bills show the quarterly readings and the Anglian Water website shows these as usage per day so it’s possible to get a handle on your usage without having to peer into a hole in the ground!

  • Some of you might have smart water meters – if so, this makes it far easier for the water company to take regular readings, but unlike smart gas/electricity meters you don’t get an in-home display. You can see your usage on the Anglian Water website. Anglian Water are upgrading meters area by area, so it’s not possible to request a smart meter upgrade in our area just yet.

  • It’s worth checking whether high usage is due to leaks – these might be leaky taps or even a small leak on the pipe between the water meter and your house. This can be detected by turning off all water-using appliances and then seeing of the smallest digits on the meter are still moving. Getting this fixed promptly will save a significant amount of water!

  • If you don’t have a water meter, it’s free and easy to get one fitted, and unless you use huge quantities of water, you could save significantly (on average £150 per year) on your annual bills! Details are at https://www.anglianwater.co.uk/services/water/water-meters/ and the application form is at https://www.anglianwater.co.uk/services/water/water-meters/apply-for-a-meter/


Tips to use less water

  • Aerated taps – these small devices fit onto taps (if your taps are new, they are probably already present!) These are mini-shower heads that screw onto your tap, reducing flow but not pressure.

  • Toilets: If you have a dual flush, please mark the buttons so people know which flush to use when! For older style toilets, placing a brick into the cistern reduces water capacity without impairing the flush.

  • Toilets with integrated basins. Australian suppliers are leading with these – after all, some Australian cities are among the most water-deprived in the world, so they should know about water saving!

  • Less-frequent loo flushing policy – private use only!

  • Teeth brushing – turn the tap OFF during brushing. This could save 15 litres per brushing!

  • Showers & baths: On average we use take 4.5 showers and 1.5 baths per week. A typical mixer tap shower uses 10-15 litres/min (electric showers use 3-5 litres/min), whilst a typical bath uses 80 litres. So, a 6 minutes shower = 1 bath!

    • The first step is to time your typical shower; can you finish in 5 minutes?!

    • You can turn the water off whilst “soaping up”.

    • You can share the bathwater.

    • A new shower head can act like a tap aerator improving pressure with reduced flow.

    • “Power showers” (with a pump to raise the pressure) invariably use more water than conventional showers; we’d only recommend these for houses with unusually low water pressure.

  • Dishwasher/ washing machines. Select the programme to minimise water use. And the time to reduce energy impact (overnight). And when renewing, look at energy ratings!

  • Car cleaning. The average car wash uses 120 litre/wash; at home this can be 400+litres/wash!!

  • Water gardens in the evening (but not as much as you think!) to prevent loss due to evaporation

  • Collect the water flowing from the hot tap whilst waiting for it for warm up (e.g to water the plants)

  • Fix your leaky taps     

  • If you had a leak, do you know where to turn off the supply and have you checked that the stop tap works?

Collect Water and Reduce Run Off

We can all help reduce sewage overspills. Sewage overspills are when too much water, generally during a wet period, enter the treatment system and the system overflows into rivers. In 2023, the Anglian water facility at Priory Park overflowed 91 times for a total of 1000 hours (source: The Rivers Trust). If we can all reduce run-off, this will have a big effect. For example, using water butts (these can be partially drained in advance of a downpour to make space) and reducing hard paving areas so rainwater soaks into the ground rather than running to a drain.

If we continue to overload the system then capital investment will be required. Our bills may be increased. Anglian Water project a 15% increase to 2030. Some good news if you don’t have any rainwater that flows down your drains (e.g. you live in a flat) – you might not be able to collect it for reuse, but you can apply for a discount on your water bill – see https://www.anglianwater.co.uk/services/extra-support/tariff-options/sewerage-charges/surface-water-drainage/


Water-related energy loss

We live in an area with very hard water – this means that there’s a lot of calcium carbonate dissolved in it which forms limescale when the water is heated or left to stand. Limescale makes heating elements less efficient, and hence makes household appliances (kettles, washing machines etc) use more energy and fail sooner. It also blocks pipes in the longer-term.

Traditional water softeners (the ones that are loaded with salt) use energy and make the softened water salty, so are only used to feed non-drinking water. There are other technologies, using electromagnetic coils, magnets and catalysts, but opinions differ on the effectiveness of these.

Make sure that the elements that you can get at (kettle, iron etc) are regularly descaled to reduce your energy use, and that your dishwasher is loaded with salt and correctly adjusted.


What’s coming up this month?

  • Discussion: Those interested are invited to an informal discussion of this month’s topic during post-service refreshments on Sunday 19th May at 11.15-12.15 in the corner of the hall. Please come along and share your questions and your experience of and issues encountered investigating sustainable water use; you can share as much or as little as you wish about what you have learned!

  • No-mow May (https://www.plantlife.org.uk/campaigns/nomowmay/) encourages people to not cut their lawns in May and beyond, so that wildflowers can grow and provide a food source for bees and butterflies. The website is very pragmatic, and gives advice on how to help nature without making your garden look feral.

  • Great Big Green Week is being held between 8-16 June (https://greatbiggreenweek.com/). The events local to Bedford are summarised at https://greatbiggreenweekb.wixsite.com/my-site/eventsandactivities – these include a comedy shows aimed at youngsters (age 6-11) called “Don't Panic! We CAN Save the Planet” at the Quarry Theatre on 8th June (https://quarrytheatre.ticketsolve.com/ticketbooth/shows/873653503) and a range of walks, litter-picks and other events.

  • “UK Earth Overshoot Day” is on 3rd June (https://overshoot.footprintnetwork.org/newsroom/country-overshoot-days/). Mark this with due reflection, as its the day where our country will have used up the sustainable ecological resources for the entire year, and all use past tat date to the end of the year is unsustainable. There is some better news – last year this was May 19th, so the work that is being done to improve sustainability is having some impact.

  • International Compost Week (https://www.compostfoundation.org/ICAW/ICAW-Home) is celebrated between 5th and 11th May.  Next month’s Sustainability Pathway study will be all about compost!

  • TeenTech are hosting a webinar on the art and science of sustainable and ethical design aimed at 11-19-year-olds (https://teentech.com/event/cyf-sustainable-ethical-design/). This event can be watched live on June 12 1600-1630, but those who register for the event can also watch the recording until the end of July. TeenTech run an amazing range of high-quality technology events for younger people; if any of you remember watching Maggie Philbin on Tomorrow’s World or Multicoloured Swap Shop, she’s the driving force behind them!

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