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Water Wastage in the UK: A Leaky Legacy [Plus What You Can Do]

Water Wastage in the UK: A Leaky Legacy [Plus What You Can Do]

More than three thousand million (three billion) litres of treated, perfectly clean drinking water is wasted every day in the United Kingdom. That’s enough water to fill 35 million bathtubs or make 15 billion cups of tea – every single day.

And although we probably should be more conscious of the water we use at home, most of this water is lost before it ever makes it into our households.

In fact, almost all of the leaks take place far from the home, in places where it is cheaper to just leave them be rather than to try and fix them.

How is this issue being addressed?

Water companies have been pledging for years to reduce water leakages, but very little has changed. In fact, in some instances the opposite has happened, as this graph shows:

Graph showing water companies' water leakage statistics

Different water companies have blamed bad weather for the failure to really reduce the volume of the leaking water. But critics blame a lack of regulation in the water industry, and a lack of competition forcing the water companies to take any real action.

The most wasteful water companies throw away more water than is even consumed per household.

As this bar chart shows, Northern Ireland Water loses nearly twice as much in leaks than the average home in Northern Ireland uses!

Graph showing water companies' water consumption statistics

And with Yorkshire Water, things are pretty much 50-50. For every litre used to clean the dishes, wash the car or take a shower, another is lost entirely.

Water shortages often make news in the UK – especially if a water company enforces a hose pipe ban in the summer.

But if water companies patched up the leaks then hose pipe bans might not ever be needed – it’s only because so much water is lost already in leakages.

In fact, telling the public to conserve water when so much is lost in leaky pipes can add insult to injury for the British people.

What you can do to end water wastage in Britain

There are two things we can all do now to save all that accessible, clean drinking water from being wasted in Britain.

One is to make it clear to your local provider that, as a customer, you are not happy with the amounts being wasted.

Write to them: make it plain that you understand they are not doing enough to reduce the amount in leakages. Write to your local MP.

The second thing we can all do at home, and it involves a little bit of awareness.

Yes, it’s true that most of the water is lost because the water companies have not fixed their leaky pipes, but we can all save a lot together by being more considerate about the water we use. Take a look at this map, below. What do you see?

Two UK maps side by side, showing colour-coded water statistics by area

The map on the left shows areas where water is under stress in Britain. The orange areas indicate those areas under the most stress.

The map on the right shows where the customers of SES Water and Southern Water are based. Both of these customers reside in an area of high water stress.

According to our UK water consumption statistics, SES Water consumers use the most water in the entire country and Southern Water consumers use the least. And they are right next to each other!

If SES Water consumers understood they were using too much water, in an area under a lot of water stress already, they probably would actively try to cut down – and maybe even turn to their neighbours at Southern Water for some practical conservation advice.

Knowing is half the battle. The other half is doing something about it.

Why our fresh water is important to save

Different water companies have blamed bad weather for the failure to really reduce the volume of the leaking water. But critics blame a lack of regulation in the water industry.

Our planet is mostly water, but most of this is undrinkable and salty. Only about 1% of the Earth’s water is “easy” to get to. That is: drinkable, fresh water that flows in rivers or sits in lakes.

Water is replenishable, but we are in danger of over-extracting it. In parts of Britain, over-extraction is already reached unsettling levels.

In the South-east, one of the most water-stressed part of the UK, our very own chalk streams are drying up. Chalk streams are Britain’s unique ecological contribution to the world.

Almost all of the chalk streams on Earth are in England, where unique ecosystems of trout, insects and other creatures thrive. But right now the culture suggests it is more acceptable to continue draining these rivers than fixing leaky pipes.

It’s time we worked together to change that culture, to save Britain’s water before things get worse.

Neil Wright is a copywriter and data researcher for Shower Stream. This is original research data, obtained from Freedom of Information (FoI) requests submitted to the water companies.