The issue

Turn the tap and out it pours, washing you, quenching your thirst, watering your garden. But perhaps it isn’t as plentiful as it seems, not only in dry lands in distant countries, but here, in the soggy Peak District, where the reservoirs never seem to fill. Today it’s raining, but two weeks ago I walked on the moors and the plants were so dry they cracked beneath my feet, while the farmers were complaining that the grass wasn’t growing.

As the population grows, we’ll need more water, we’re told. Severn Trent Water have abandoned their plans to store more in the Upper Derwent Valley, due to the impacts on protected areas and compliance concerns, but there are still controversial plans for reservoirs in other areas. STW argue that measures such as fixing leaks and reducing water usage could never save enough water to supply everyone. However, the Campaign for National Parks says that STW and Yorkshire Water lost enough water through leaks every day last year to supply 4.5 million people.


Each person in UK uses, on average, 142 litres of water a day, while people with a water metre save around 40 litres a day. Several organisations are aiming to reduce consumption to 110 litres per person per day. For new housing, High Peak Borough Council is thinking of doing the same as part of Supplementary Planning Guidance. As well as reducing the need for greater supply of water, this would reduce waste water and hence pressure on the sewerage system.

142 or even 110 litres of water seems a lot, but doesn’t include “hidden water cost”, ie total water use based on everything we do, what we buy, what we use, and anything that could possibly use water, including electricity generation. Taking these costs into account it’s estimated a person in the UK uses a whopping 3000 litres of water a day. Most of the hidden water costs come from agriculture. Some say that the hidden water costs per person are actually 4650-5000 litres for meat diets and around 2000 litres for vegetarian diets, according to the Grantham Institute, Sheffield.  On the other hand, livestock in the UK, mostly reared on grass, use much less water than in some other places.

All this suggests to me that water is a bit like energy: many people in UK probably use more than they really need. Perhaps if people knew much water any particular activity consumes, they might consider changing their habits. So here are some stats as a guide.

Shower17 litres per minute power shower,               8 litres/min mixer shower

5 litres/ min electric shower

Bath80 litres per full bath
Toilet5 litres/flush for a modern cistern; as much as 9 litres/flush for an older toilet
Washing MachineAverage 46 litres/cycle
Dishwasher14 litres/ cycle for a modern dishwasher or 10 litres/ cycle on eco-setting
Hand Washing8 litres per bowl wash, 30 litres per running tap wash
Car Washing250 litres per hose use, 30 litres per bucket use

It follows that saving water can reduce your water bill (if you’re on a water meter), reduce your energy use and bills, reduce the impact on your local environment, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by using less energy to pump, heat and treat the water. Heating water comes second to heating space in terms of domestic energy use.

Ways to save water

So what to do to save water and energy? Here are some ideas:

  • Fix leaky taps.
  • Turn off the tap. You could save 6 litres of water a minute by turning off your tap while you brush your teeth.
  • Reduce food waste, see above on agriculture.
  • Only boil as many cups of water as you need, to save water, money and energy. Heating water is the second most energy-intensive household activity.
  • Wash your clothes when they’re dirty, not simply because you’ve worn them once or twice. (Levis say you shouldn’t wash your jeans more than once a week). You can sponge off the odd mark.
  • Wait until you have a full load before using your washing machine or dishwasher
  • Have shorter showers, and get an eco showerhead, not a power shower. Give up baths!
  • Don’t wash your car (or at least, wash it less often).
  • Get a dual-flush on your toilet
  • Use water butts to collect rainwater for watering the garden. Water outdoor plants in the early morning or at the end of the day to stop water evaporating.
  • Use a watering can or bucket, not a hose.

More radical actions

There are more radical ways to save water:

  • Some people say that you don’t need to wash your hair or wash all over every day, or more often than once a week – soap and water dry out your skin.
  • If you’re having works done to your house, you can instal a system to save grey water, which you can then use for flushing the toilet and for washing the floors, even for watering the garden. Or, more simply, when you have your (weekly?) shower, keep the water and use a bucket to re-use it.
  • Only grow plants that don’t need watering, and grow in the ground rather than pots or hanging baskets.

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