The UK will be faced with chronic water shortages within the next 20 years, unless it gets used to the idea of drinking recycled toilet water, the head of the Environment Agency has said. The Guardian reports that Sir James Bevan made the comments in a recent article for the Sunday Times.
The UK Government has announced that all of England’s South West region is now in drought, including Bristol, Somerset, south Gloucestershire, and parts of Wiltshire. Devon, Cornwall, and the Isles of Scilly have already been in drought status for some weeks, after exceptionally low levels of rainfall during the driest July since 1935.
River levels are critically low in some areas, and six water companies across England and Wales have introduced hosepipe bans. Heatwaves have added to the demand for water use, as crops need more irrigation, and gallons of water are used to tackle the many wildfires which have broken out across the country.
There are fears that crops could fail, including for staple foods such as potatoes, driving up the cost of living even further. Foods which have been traditionally cheap and filling, and are popular will children, such as crisps and chips, face unwelcome potential price hikes by the autumn.
With warnings that the dry conditions could carry on until next year, Sir Bevan has discussed the actions which need to be taken to avoid water shortages, including using water that has been reprocessed from wastewater treatment sites. He urged people to be less squeamish at the idea of using water recycled from sinks, baths, and lavatories.
He said: “Part of the solution will be to reprocess the water that results from sewage treatment and turn it back into drinking water – perfectly safe and healthy, but not something many people fancy.”
He added: “We need to remember where it comes from: when we turn on the tap, what comes out started in a river, lake or aquifer. The more we take, the more we drain those sources and put stress on nature and wildlife.”
Sir Bevan also emphasised the importance of being more frugal with our household water use, as a collective and consistent effort will be very effective, if it is followed by the majority of responsible householders.
He outlined this advice: “Each of us can be part of the solution, starting now. Small things make a big difference. Take showers, not baths. Cram the dishwasher or washing machine and only run it when it’s full. Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth.”
He added: “Fix leaks: many are in our own homes, not water company pipes. Get a water meter: your company will install one free. Outside the house, get a water butt: plants prefer rainwater. Use a watering can, not a hose, and don’t water the grass – it doesn’t need it. “Use water wisely” is not a slogan. It’s a guide for how to survive. Let’s follow it”.
Several firms in the south of England, including Thames Water and Severn Trent, are already planning wastewater recycling schemes.
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