It’s another glorious hot late spring morning. Whilst I can hear the birds chirping and children playing outside across the neighbourhood, I can’t help but reflect back on the torrential weather over the winter and early spring. The storms and rain over the winter topped up reservoirs, rivers and ground waters. From a resource point of view, it was a welcome wet winter that enabled water companies to review their drought plans and take stock following a series of dry years.
Then things changed. A double whammy of coronavirus and an unexpected, prolonged dry, warm spring means as a society we all need to behave differently in many aspects of life – and that includes our relationship with water.
It’s no surprise that with many people now spending their days at home and not at their place of work the way in which we use water as a society is changing. There has been a shift in the demand for water – both away from commercial and office properties but also in the time of day. The morning and evening peaks associated with people getting ready for and returning from work have become flatter and elongated as our lifestyles adjust to the new world. Overall, this initially resulted in a small overall increase in domestic water use – partly as our home appliances may be less efficient or being used more, and perhaps because of DIY and clean-up projects finally making it to the top of our to-do lists.
The very dry and increasingly warm spring has increased water use even more. All across the country water companies are seeing demand for water hitting exceptionally high levels. In some cases, over 25% higher than normal for the time of year. The wet winter did mean that reservoirs and groundwater stores were full at the start of spring. These are still in a healthy state for this time of year, so the issue is not a water shortage.
The challenge right now is how to get enough water from the treatment works to the tap. Drinking water treatment systems are pretty much working flat out at maximum capacity to produce enough water to meet the unusually high demand. However, it’s a finite system. The distribution network is fixed and unlike other services cannot easily expand to meet short term demand spikes. It’s simply not possible to get more water to where it needs to be at the time it needs to be there. Some customers may already be seeing drops in pressure that are the first indication of an impact in some homes.
We need people to help us reduce the overall demand – even by as little as 10% each – to ensure that the network can continue to operate at a level customers want and expect.
Every bit we can each save at home goes towards helping to keep water pressure up. Saving water at home now will also benefit our farmers and environment. Farms are at the front end of the dry weather as some local streams and brooks are already drying up, and farmers are saying that unless steps are taken there could be serious impacts on crop yields later in the year.
Water UK and Waterwise published a set of top tips this weekend and each water company has a wealth of advice and tips on their own websites. It’s worth checking it out and committing to personally to taking whatever steps you can to play your part. I know I’ll be looking to trim my shower time, let the car get dirty (it’s not like I go anywhere in it anyway) and keeping a close eye on how we use water in our garden – especially now the water butts are bone dry.