Water is one of our most precious resources – all life depends on it. It can sometimes seem like we have endless supplies of the stuff that comes out of our taps, but – as the recent heatwaves and droughts have demonstrated – we shouldn’t take water for granted.
Water companies have a responsibility to provide plentiful supplies of clean water, for example by investing in reservoirs, fixing leaks and preventing sewage pollution in rivers. But we can all act as individuals too to minimise waste of this precious natural resource. And if you’re on a water meter it makes obvious sense to save as much as possible, otherwise it’s just money down the drain.
But even if you’re not on a meter, taking steps to avoid water waste is still crucial. In periods of drought, using more than we need can lead to hosepipe bans – and even a lack of drinking water.
Using more water than necessary has an environmental impact too, as clean water takes energy to produce.
Fortunately, there are lots of things you can do to reduce your water use. Here are some ideas.
Be water-wise in the garden
During very dry spells, it may be necessary to water some of the plants in your garden. If there are water shortages, prioritise vegetable crops. While established trees, shrubs and perennials can survive for some time without watering, there’s a risk that vegetable plants will succumb to diseases – and a lack of water can severely affect the harvest.
A good soaking once every week or so is the best way to water the vegetable garden. This encourages the roots to head deep into the soil – whereas a light sprinkling every day just keeps the roots close to the surface, making the plants even more vulnerable to drying out.
Recently planted plants and seedlings – as well as anything growing in a container, especially tomatoes and peppers – will need more frequent watering. Water first thing in the morning or during early evening, when the sun isn’t so hot and less water will evaporate from the surface of the soil.
Consider mulching too. Adding a generous layer of organic matter, such as compost, after watering can prevent moisture from evaporating. This is particularly useful if you grow vegetables in raised beds. For ornamental flower beds, a mulch of bark clippings can also be effective.
Installing a water butt or two in your garden is a good way to collect rainwater from the roof of your house, shed or greenhouse. If possible, position it near the plants that will need watering most.
Rainwater is better than treated tap water for many plants – and it’s important to try to use rainwater for topping up ponds, as tap water can affect the delicate ecosystem in a wildlife pond.
Try to avoid watering the lawn – grass is extremely hardy, and should bounce back quickly once cooler and wetter conditions return.
Less frequent mowing will help maintain your lawn too. Very short grass tends to dry out more quickly in hot weather, whereas longer grass copes much better with drought conditions. We’ve seen this in our own garden, where patches left to grow are still green, and full of life and wildflowers. Meanwhile, the areas we’ve mowed are looking parched and dry.
Long grass provides vital shelter and shade for all sorts of creatures too. Bumblebees nest in long grass, and frogs, toads and newts use it as a cool place to rest in hot weather. And the wildflowers that often appear in longer grass provide nectar for pollinating insects such as moths, bees and butterflies.
Save water, save money
It’s important to reduce water use inside the house too, and you can buy (or get for free, see details below!) various bits of kit that can help.
A toilet cistern bag or block – sometimes called a Water Hippo – dramatically reduces the quantity of water being flushed away. It could save between one and three litres for every flush.
Taking a shower, instead of a bath, can save a lot of water too – but only if you keep it short. A five-minute shower uses around 40 litres of water, but filling a bath uses twice that amount. Encourage family members not to linger too long in the shower by using a shower sand timer. This is usually set for four minutes, which should be enough time to get clean!
Or listen to the radio while in the shower (on a waterproof or water-safe device, of course) and try to finish the shower after one or two songs.
Special aerating shower head devices are available which reduce the amount of water being used, and you can get fittings for your kitchen and bathroom taps too.
A running tap can use up to nine litres of water per minute – so that’s 18 litres lost if you leave a tap running while cleaning your teeth.
You can save water in the kitchen too. Wash fruit and veg in a bowl of water, rather than rinsing them under a running tap. The water in the bowl can then be used to water plants.
In fact, as long as you use a natural, plant-based washing-up liquid – such as Ecover – you can also use washing-up water to water plants after the dishes are done. This ‘grey water’ can be collected (for example in a watering can) but must be used within 24 hours – and it’s best not to use grey water to irrigate edible crops.
Saving water in the home can have a huge impact on your energy bills. For example, according to www. watersworthsaving. org.uk, a family of four could save £115 on gas (and a further £100 off their water bill if on a meter) just by keeping showers to four minutes.
Other ways to save water in the home is to fix leaky pipes promptly, and only run washing machines and dishwashers when full.
Severn Trent customers can get some of the devices mentioned in this article – including shower timers, cistern devices and water-saving shower and tap fittings – for free. Visit www.savewatersave money.co.uk for more information.