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Conserving water

Water is a precious commodity; life would not be possible without it.

It is essential that we should conserve water and use it economically.

Water scarcity and flooding are problems in different kinds of weather.

Cleaning, recycling and redistributing water use electricity and add to our carbon footprint.

Rising populations are also putting strains on our resources. Roughly speaking we each use about 160 litres of water every day per person.

Climate trends

More and more, the climate is running to extremes. Either we have no water, or more than we can cope with. That’s climate change.

In spite of the heavy rain of recent times, the water supply in England and especially London remains under long-term threat. We get spells of heavy rain, but lengthy periods without rain in between. It may seem hard to believe, but London gets less rain than Rome or Sydney!

Tips to save water

There are simple ways to cut consumption:

  • Do you have a water meter yet? These are becoming compulsory in London. This helps us stay aware of how much we are using, and rewards us for using less by cutting water bills;
  • Check for leaks on pipes and taps. If you do have a water meter, turn off all the taps and the main stop valve, where the water enters the building. Take two readings a couple of minutes apart. If there is any change in the reading you may have a leak;
  • Fix leaking taps and make sure they are fully turned off. In a public area, consider a sign to not leave taps running. New taps can be spray types, or have limiters, or a timer to turn off automatically;
  • Lag your pipes. This saves on your heating bills, and prevents burst pipes in winter. But don’t insulate a loft floor underneath your water tank – it may freeze;
  • Save both water and electricity by only boiling as much water as you need, whilst making sure the electric heating element is fully covered;
  • Make sure sinks have plugs and use a bowl to wash up;
  • When replacing your washing machine or dishwasher, choose the most efficient type. Run them full but not over-full;
  • Collecting rainwater in a water butt, and use it for the garden.


Most parts of London have combined drainage of surface water and foul waste. Surface water runoff comes from roof, roads and pavements; foul waste comes from toilets and sinks. They are cleaned together, then returned to the River Thames in East London.

Unfortunately in heavy rain, the sewers overflow, tipping foul waste together with surface water into the River Thames, which kills the fish. This is made worse when we pave over our patios.

Water companies including Thames Water have received some very hostile media attention due to pollution of rivers from sewage spills. The excess is not as often stated ‘pumped’ into the rivers, just discharged. Rightly or wrongly this is permitted up to a certain level, but has become extreme. To some extent we all share the blame.

It is true that there has been under-investment. But no-one knows where to make repair supply pipes until leaks occur. Thames Water is currently constructing its new ‘super-sewer’ (officially the Thames Tideway Tunnel) – a massive investment – to relieve pressure on the sewer system and reduce or eliminate discharge into the River. This is intended to come into service in 2025.

In some areas in Outer London and outside London, water and waste are kept separate. Rainwater run-off runs via drainage gullies into the nearest river. It doesn’t get cleaned before entering the river, so it’s important not to pour anything harmful into an outside drain.

Our water supply comes from the rivers, and from natural aquifers which collect ground water, i.e. from gardens and parks, to the extent it doesn’t run off the surface. The water is cleaned and subject to rigorous tests, intended to ensure that it’s safe to drink.

The increase in paved and impermeable areas in London not only overloads the drainage, but also reduces available drinking water.


Concerns have been raised about glyphosate weedkiller getting into our water supply. Thames Water actually prefer glyphosate to other weed killers. They say it degrades quicker before sinking into the ground water aquifer which supplies much of our water.

Alternatives to glyphosate based weedkiller are increasingly available; though inevitably they are less effective and require more frequent application.

It should be borne in mind that any proprietary weedkiller, whatever is the principal active agent, is likely to contain other chemical agents besides glyphosate, some of which may be toxic and require to be applied and handled in accordance with instructions.


Environment and Sustainability, front page.

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