Covering nearly three-quarters of the earth’s surface, water seems to be the most renewable of all the planet’s resources. But could it ever run out?
Well, most of the earth’s water resources are inaccessible and unevenly distributed. In addition, 97.5% of earth’s water is seawater, unfit for human consumption.
And what about England running out of water? The very idea may seem preposterous – until it happens.
According to the chief executive of the UK’s Environment Agency, Sir James Bevan, parts of England are set to run out of potable water within the next two or three decades.
What are the facts?
- The UK’s population will continue to rise from 67 million now to 75 million by 2050.
- By 2050, the amount of water available for abstraction could be 10%-15% lower.
- A larger population means more roads, houses, food, workplaces and energy, all of which require more water use.
- At the same time, the impacts of climate change include less predictable rainfall along with hotter and drier summers.
- Pollution is growing, both of freshwater supplies and underground aquifers.
But Britain gets so much rain!
Well, some parts do. Much of the UK’s rain falls mainly on specific areas, with the highlands of Scotland, Wales and Northern England making up the bulk of the UK’s annual average rainfall. By contrast, South East England gets less average rainfall than South Sudan! It is these startling facts that put into contrast the wet and windy weather we have recently been experiencing.
The next world war will be fought over water
Much of the world’s population still lack adequate access to clean, affordable water. Some people believe that increasing water shortages around the world will lead to war. Syria is cited as an example. Between 2007-2010, Syria experienced one of the worst droughts in history. This decimated rural communities, driving people into cities where they found themselves marginalised.
- The global demand for water is projected to increase by 55% between 2000 and 2050, driven by development and the need to feed a growing population.
- Many of the world’s major aquifers are receding.
- The water table is dropping all over the world, and our freshwater sources are being drained faster than they are being replenished.
Simply put, there’s not an infinite supply of water.
What can be done in the face of a water crisis?
Desalination involves turning seawater into potable drinking water. This has been done successfully in Israel, where over half of the country’s water comes from desalination.
The catch? The energy footprint and expenses associated with desalination are significant.
The UK’s first desalination plant of its kind in Beckton opened in 2010 and provides up to 150 million litres a day. However, it uses a lot of pricey electricity.
Israel is also a leader in terms of water recycling. Its water treatment systems recapture 86% of the water that goes down the drain.
Rainwater capture is a simple and cheap solution for collecting freshwater. Singapore meets up to 30% of its water needs through a rainwater capture system. Collected and filtered rainwater can be used for showering and toilet flushing.
Putting a price on water
Over half of UK households are still able to use as much water as they like for a flat monthly fee. Bringing in compulsory water meters would help cut wasteful usage and incentivise investment in new, more efficient water infrastructure.
Good water efficiency starts with detecting and fixing leaks. There are currently three billion litres leaking out of aged pipes in the UK a day. This amount is equivalent to the water used each day by 20 million people. Fixing leaks could go a long way in preventing unnecessary water wastage.
A high percentage of the world’s water is used for agriculture. But some methods of irrigation are highly inefficient. For example, in hot countries, water sprayed on crops can evaporate before it even reaches the roots. We need to take advantage of new smart technology to irrigate more efficiently. For example, field sensors can be used to monitor the moisture content in the soil. This lets farmers know whether irrigation is needed and allows them to calibrate their irrigation more accurately.
Water-saving strategies for businesses
Using the services of a water consultant can help your business identify how to become more efficient and less wasteful with your water usage. They may also be able to help you lower your water bills by setting you up with a cheaper supplier.