Water Shortage? In this weather?

So yet again the English weather is doing it’s best to drown all things. And yet again the water companies are telling us there is a drought – apparently despite the flooding, constant downpours and general feeling of being underwater, there is no water reaching the Aquifers – the underground reservoirs and storage spots that nature created. I have a theory that I’d like to test.

All of the water that falls on to the country is apparently the property of the water companies – that alone is incredulous of course, but there it is. The water company harvests the water and treats it to make it safe to use and fit to drink, filtering out impurities and so on. At some point in the process the harvested water goes into a large surface reservoir. At this point evaporation happens, and lots of water is taken back up in the water cycle to fal again as precipitation.

However, lots is also sent through to the country’s homes, businesses, and other buildings – billions of them. And in each of these buildings there is at least one toilet and probably a water storage cylinder or overhead tank, and these hold a gallon or two between them. Let’s assume a standard toilet holds one gallon (OK, 4 litres in metric). Let’s also assume a storage tank holds ten gallons – they probably hold more. And let’s ignore hot water systems and radiators… but say there is an average of 11 gallons per household in the UK.

So how many households are there that are storing up this valuable resource? In 2005 there were 25.5 million homes.. there are more now. We can probably assume the same number of offices and other businesses, if not more – and how many of those have more than one toilet do you think? Then there’s schools, colleges, universities and other buildings like museums, swimming baths and cinemas, shopping malls and so on – ALL of them with a water supply.

OK – let’s consider there are about 100 million buildings and each has got at least 11 gallons of water sitting in it – many will have more (anyone got two bathrooms at home?) and so this calculation is probably massively under-estimated.
So we are looking at somewhere around 1 billion gallons of water… that’s about 4 billion litres. I reckon that’s a lot.

But wait! We have not included another industry that uses massive amounts of water! Yes, the retail business! How many bottles of water are on the shelves in shops, supermarkets and garages around the country? How many bottles of water are in transit to a shop? I’d guess there’s a fair amount of water sitting doing nothing at all.
So back to the water companies – they harvest the rain, they move it to a reservoir, they don’t add it back to the aquifers and therefore anything that falls on the soil in the natural scheme of things is probably diverted well before it has time to sink into the places where it is needed.

There is a water shortage because we do not allow the water to go where nature has intended, and we divert it to places that are convenient for us – or, quite literally, conveniences for us! Anything else we stick into a bottle and sell over a counter.
Now this is not a new situation – well, apart from the water companies claiming rights over any water that falls out of the sky. In the summer of 1976 we had a drought… weeks and weeks of high pressure weather systems over the UK and the most fabulous sunshine I can remember. And yes, we had to put bathwater on the garden if we wanted to stop the grass getting scorched. And there were other hardships relating to water too – swimming baths were closed, hosepipes banned, only essential services allowed to access the precious supply. Oh – I don’t remember a huge amount of bottled water being sold either… the occasional perrier maybe.

So I suggest the water shortages in this country at the moment are a result of the aggressive behaviour of water companies, the desire for multiple bathrooms in a house, the retail market for bottled water (driven perhaps by the health and fitness industry?), the massive use of water by industry, and not at all to do with natural processes.

Woes abound – the aquifers are empty. Is there any wonder given how the water is diverted , packaged and sold…? It’s about time we took a long hard look at the way the water companies are doing things. I am all in favour of the filtering, cleaning and processing, and I accept they need to make enough money to cover the cost of this, but I don’t accept there is a need to make millions of pounds in profit by telling us there is a shortage when quite simply some of that shortage is down to the way they have got things sewn up!

So what is an alternative solution? Well, how about using dirty bathwater to flush a toilet? Yes, you *can* divert your waste water to a secondary system in your house that collects the used water (which is probably not that dirty really), filters out the scum and then stores it for use in toilets. Have you heard of ‘greywater’?

What’s the difference between tap water and bottled water? Oh – the advertising? The filters made of natural rock and the taste this gives it? Possibly. Is it water that would otherwise have reached the aquifers? Certainly. Could we do without it and just drink tap water? Absolutely. Will we? I doubt it!

I’d like to return to being able to catch the rain water that falls on my roof, and store it for use in my domestic systems such as toilets. I don’t think there would be any more stored than currently gets stored anyway in the water systems we mostly all enjoy, and there would be no need for water companies to claim ownership!
We could use it in hosepipes too – and if it really did not rain too much, we’d really not have enough to water the garden…

I’d love to find a way forward with this – it seems a vicious circle to me. The water falls, it is caught up and diverted before it can filter through to the bedrock aquifers, it is packaged up as a product and sold to us in various ways… until there isn’t anything in the reservoirs, and then we have a drought – the water companies fear they cannot supply the water to us any more, so we all have to stop using it and instead we have to allow the water companies to get their resources back so they can sell it again, and again.
I think mother nature had a better system, really.

Yes, let’s catch it, and clean it before it goes out to homes as tap water for infants, the elderly and infirm, pregnant mothers, and any other sector of society that needs it, but let’s not try to create a worry about empty aquifers and fears about global warming when quite frankly, more rain and water is falling than we can hope for, and there is enough to go around. I don’t want to see another water company official telling me the drought is a huge problem – it may be a problem for the water company, and of course it is a problem for the way we use water, but a few systematic changes to that (costing some of the precious profit, perhaps) and it could be solved.