Water Saving Tips

Water - a precious resource

Earth is known as the blue planet, yet less than 1% of our water is actually accessible freshwater. The majority of water is made up of the ocean (97%) and others are captured in glaciers and geology.

Like fossil fuels, freshwater is a finite resource. The difference is that we have alternatives for energy – renewables generated by wind, solar or waves – but we do not have an alternative for water, which is paramount to our survival.

The Environment Agency has warned that within 25 years England will not have enough water to meet demand. The main issues are a changing climate (bringing more extreme weather), population growth, and the management of our resources.

Earth - the blue planet

Our efforts to help protect water sources

The south east of England is deemed as a water stressed area: demand has increased, while the reliability of its source has decreased. We are abstracting water from both our surface-fed rivers and groundwater sources at a faster rate than they are being replenished by rainfall.

This makes water a year-round problem, not just when we are feeling the heat in summer.

The South East Rivers Trust works in various ways with communities and businesses to manage water, keeping rivers flowing and making the most of available water resources.

Water saving is at the heart of many of our educational programmes. Through our natural flood management and sustainable drainage projects, we work with landowners to build back wetter – capturing rainfall in the landscape to replenish and retain water where it is needed. Through Holistic Water for Horticulture, we provide advice and demonstrations on how growers can use less water, leaving the environment and their businesses more resilient to climate change.

Managing water on the land

Your water footprint

While only 10% of freshwater used is in our homes, in our daily lives we also draw on the amounts used in industry (20%) and agriculture (70%)1.

On average in England, we use 141 litres of water daily per person, but only about half of households have a water meter – and water meter owners use 33 fewer litres.

Furthermore, the food and other products we buy use huge amounts of water in production. Hidden to us, this is known as virtual water.

We all need to think carefully about the water we use, both directly and indirectly. The less water we use, the more water remains available in the environment for wildlife.

How much water can you save for rivers?

Water footprint

Our water saving tips

Cutting back in the kitchen

  • Dishwashers are the most efficient way to wash dishes, using only 14 litres of water. Don’t rinse your dishes before, simply just scrape and place, and wash only when you have a full load and preferably on an eco setting.
  • If hand washing your dishes, save dishes from the day to wash in one go, use a washing-up bowl in the sink rather than running the tap and conserve up to 50% of water used.
  • Wash vegetables in a bowl rather than under a running tap.
  • Cover your pans to reduce water loss when cooking.
  • Save water and energy by filling the kettle only with the amount of water you require.
  • Fill a bottle of water and place in the fridge to prevent wasting water waiting for the tap to run cold.
  • An average washing machine uses 50 litres of water per cycle. Be water efficient by only using the washing machine on a full load. Check the manufacturing guide for the most efficient setting, for example 30°C eco.
  • In addition, try spot washing your clothes and hang outside to air and re-wear before washing.
A dishwasher is the most efficient way to save water when washing up

Being efficient in the bathroom

At home, we use most of our water in the bathroom and toilets (about 60%), according to resources from the Energy Saving Trust. 

  • Turn the tap off when shaving or cleaning your teeth. Running a tap for two minutes uses 12 litres of water.
  • The average bath holds 80 litres of water. Opt for a shower or only partially fill your bathtub.
  • The average person spends seven minutes in a shower, using 84 litres. Can you shower in less than four minutes?
  • Install low flow or aerated showerheads. They do not compromise on pressure but can save six litres of water per minute.
  • Opt for a dual flush toilet and use properly or install a Cistern Displacement Device in your toilet. This could save one litre per flush, equating to 5,000 litres a year.
  • Follow the 3P rule – only paper, pee, and poo go down the loo. Also follow the motto, if it’s yellow yet it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down.
  • Avoid flushing cotton wool, nappies, wipes, sanitary products and oil down our drains. These cause blockages and create fatbergs which can end up in our rivers.
Showers use less water than baths

Testing for leaks

Leaks are one of the biggest losses of water in our homes, and costs us money. A dripping tap could cost £100 a year, and a hot water tap would cost hundreds more on energy bills.

  • If the water was collected from all the leaky taps in the UK across a year, this would be enough water to fill 184 Olympic sized swimming pools.
  • Check all taps inside and outside as well as the pipes under kitchen sinks and connections to water such as washing machines.
  • A single leaky loo can waste 200-400 litres per day, adding up to a staggering 72,000-146,000 litres a year.
  • Check for a leaky loo by placing a few drops of food colouring into your toilet cistern, then don’t use or flush it for an hour. After an hour, if there is the food colouring present in the toilet bowl, you have a leak. If you do not have easy access to your cistern, dry the inside of the toilet bowl and place a square of toilet paper on the inside of the bowl. If after an hour it is wet, you have a leak.
  • Contact a reliable plumber to fix any leaks you are not confident in doing so yourself, or check if your water company fixes leaks at home for free.
Leaks in and outside properties are an issue to raise with your water company

Going green in the garden

The water used in the garden can be high and unnecessarily wasteful. Here are some tips to conserve water in the garden.

  • Install a water butt and collect rainwater to use in your garden rather than tap water.  Just one water butt can hold enough rainwater to fill a watering can 25 times (Southern Water).
  • Using a hose sprinkler for one hour can use 1,000 litres of water! Switch to a watering can or a trigger nozzle on the hose to direct the flow of water directly to plant roots where needed.
  • Let your grass go brown during dry spells: it is very resilient and will bounce back when rain comes again.
  • Reduce evaporation rates by up to 75% by using mulch or bark around your plants. Water plants early in the morning or evening when evaporation rates are at their lowest.
  • Check the weather before you water your plants, if it is going to rain, let the rain do it.
  • Adopt sustainable urban drainage systems (SuDS). Turn roofs green, create rain planters by redirecting your rain drain pipe, or de-pave a section of the garden. Changing from a hard impermeable surface to one that helps absorb water back into the land helps replenish water sources and reduces surface run-off. Why not try removing a paving slab and growing some herbs or planting wildflowers?
Water butts are one way to manage your garden's water supply all year round

Caring for water via our diets

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that about 70% of freshwater withdrawal is used by agriculture in the world and that the livestock sector is using about 20% of freshwater solely for feed production (Waterwise).

Producing meat and dairy products is more water-intensive compared to producing plant-based products (Institution of Mechanical Engineers). Eating vegan for one day can save 5,000 litres of water.

That is the same amount of water as almost four months worth of daily showers. Being conscious of how your food is produced and reducing your intake of meat and dairy will contribute massively to reducing your water and carbon footprint.

Where possible and accessible, it is best to eat locally, seasonally, organically and to reduce our food waste because a third of our food produced globally goes to waste.

You can take a look at the water used for other popular food items in our table here, compiled from statistics found in The Guardian.

Producing meat and dairy uses a lot of water

Tackling water issues in our clothes and technology

The textile industry is one of the most water-intensive industries, using 37 million Olympic swimming pools worth annually, that’s 93 billion cubic meters of water (Ellen Macarthur Foundation).

It has been reported that a cotton T-shirt can take 2,720 litres of water to produce (Water Foot Print) – that is three years’ worth of drinking water for one person.

  • Buy clothes second hand, either in charity shops or on various apps.
  • Rent outfits for special occasions.
  • Care for your clothes by following the washing guidelines.
  • Upcycle, repair and mend.
  • Buy from ethical and sustainable brands where possible.
  • Borrow and share clothes with friends and families.
  • Avoid polyester materials where possible. The fibres contribute to microplastics that end up in our waterways.

Technology is another major consumer of water. For example, it takes 13,000 litres to produce a smartphone (Friends of the Earth). To counter this, buy technology second-hand, get it repaired and refurbished and look after it.

These items tend to be created in countries where water scarcity is already an issue, further exacerbating global water inequality.

Making clothes uses lots of water