Water – essential to all life on Earth, yet a resource we take for granted everyday. We watch heart-wrenching footage on TV depicting young children walking for miles to collect a container full of muddy water but rarely stop to consider how lucky we are to have clean water at the turn of a tap. We drink it, wash in it, cook with it… we use it all day everyday and can’t imagine living without having clean water so readily available, but that luxury is set to come to an end within just 25 years unless we take action.
Over 65% of fresh water on Earth is found in icebergs and glaciers (which, I’m sure I don’t need to remind you is currently melting at an alarming rate into the sea), and just over 30% is found in ground water. Only about 0.3% of our fresh water is found in easily accessible lakes, rivers and swamps.
Of the freshwater currently available we already use more than half. We also store 5 times the total of all the Earth’s rivers behind dams and release the equivalent volume of freshwater each year.
Approximately 80% of all industrial and municipal wastewater is released directly into the environment without any prior treatment, with sludge from water treatment plants being spread as fertilizer on farm land – I’ve previously talked about the impact of microplastics (found in this form of fertilizer) in a previous post.
Global water use has increased almost 8 times in the last 100 years. 70% of global water use is for agriculture and, rather worryingly, we lose around 3 billion litres of water a day through leakage in England alone!
Over 50% of the UK’s total river length, some 389,000Km, has been physically modified and therefore affecting the habitat of organisms. It has been estimated that we have seen a decline of 81% in the population of 881 freshwater species between 1970 and 2012.
Today, water related diseases (such as malaria) cause around 3.4 million deaths around the world each year. Although it has now been eradicated in Britain, malaria was once commonplace here until there were concerted efforts in swamp drainage, changes in land use and the development of pesticides.
Ah pesticides… The development of pesticides, pharmaceuticals, as well as increases in their use, has led to an exponential increase in the concentrations observed in freshwater systems. Pharmaceuticals are manufactured with the intention of having an effect on biological systems – approximately 90% of human drug targets were shared with 23 assessed mammalian species. The manufacture of industrial machinery and products continues to produce toxic compounds; for example: flame retardants are widely used in both commercial and domestic products and are associated with significant disruption of the endocrine system of organisms. We are literally killing eco-systems with man-made synthetic chemicals.
Water Footprint – items often (although not always) require water in their growth/manufacture but so too does the packaging it comes in. We also need to be mindful of where the item has come from as it may be available locally, depending on season, but it will likely have been imported from somewhere there is a water shortage, further damaging the area.
The amount of water used for domestic purposes is closely related to its availability, the amount of effort it takes to access it and, surprisingly, our income levels… that’s right, people who earn more tend to also have a higher water consumption!
The UK daily water use average is 149 litres per person. As a rough guide:
- Toilet flush = 12 litres
- Bath = 100 litres
- Shower (more than 10 minutes) = 200 litres
- Dishwasher = 50 litres
- Brushing teeth (with tap running) = 5 litres
- Drinking, cooking and cleaning = 10 litres
- Car washing (with hose) = 200 litres
Hopefully, you’ve already spotted one or two areas where you can improve your water consumption from that list. You can also reduce your water use by investing in domestic water recycling schemes that reuse water within the house, and of course by collecting rainwater in a water butt to use in the garden during the drier months.
Cape Town, in South Africa, almost ran out of water but through drastic action they managed to avert disaster. From showering for less than 2 minutes and not flushing after each toilet use to seeing who could go longest between washing clothes, the residents certainly had to make their fair of sacrifices. Each person was restricted to using a maximum of 50 litres per day – do you think you could manage that amount? Please join me in keeping track of how much you currently use and then seeing how close you can get it to 50 litres per day!