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.
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.
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.
At home, we use most of our water in the bathroom and toilets (about 60%), according to resources from the Energy Saving Trust.
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.
The water used in the garden can be high and unnecessarily wasteful. Here are some tips to conserve water in the garden.
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.
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.
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.