This week (w/c 29the April) marks the fifth annual Water Saving Week. This great initiative is driven by Waterwise, an organisation that campaigns for the responsible use of water, laying down the gauntlet to all to achieve bold and ambitious consumption and wastage reduction targets.
In the UK, water has often been overlooked when it comes to the broader environmental and sustainability debate. Issues such as energy efficiency, lower carbon emissions and the use of plastics have invariably taken centre-stage.
But this is changing…
Water Saving Week comes just over a month after the Environment Agency’s CEO, Sir James Bevan, warned that the UK is only 20-25 years away from what he describes as the ‘jaws of death’ – the point at which demand for water exceeds supply. And this is a dilemma faced by much of the world in the coming decades – an estimated five billion people are set to experience water shortages by 2050.
The public’s attitudes to water versus other resources has often been different too – stable water rates mean consumers and businesses are not hit hard in the pocket and penalised for wasting water. Many have also been apathetic towards water conservation while they perceive water companies are doing little to uphold their end of the bargain.
Now though, pressure from regulators on the UK’s water suppliers has never been greater, particularly with regards to addressing water wastage. The Consumer Council for Water has calculated that 3.1 billion litres of water are lost every day in the UK from leaking pipes. Water companies have now committed billions of pounds of investment to repair infrastructure as they seek to meet ambitious, yet necessary targets. Just last week, the water industry vowed to triple the rate at which it reduces water leakages by 2030.
It’s not just the water companies that have a job to do
Many will argue that, as the biggest culprits, the main focus for leak reduction should be on the huge network of pipes that run under our towns and cities. However, the pipes in our homes, places of work and recreational centres should not be ignored. For example, approximately 76% of the UK’s housing stock is now over 40 years old and with ageing properties comes ageing pipework – much of which has probably not been touched since it was installed. And as properties get older, the risks get greater. We can already see that major escapes of water in residential and commercial property is a growing issue in the UK – British insurers pay out, on average, £2.5 million every day in water damage claims for leaks from burst and damaged pipes. It is not just existing property either – new build developments with increasingly complex, integrated pipes, more plumbed-in appliances and a growing reliance on cooling systems for IT technology in the age of Big Data also pose a big water damage risk.
So where will water efficiency measures go from here?
Well, many of the indications are pointing to more intervention from outside sources, not less. There are growing calls for a more widespread roll-out of water meters so people and businesses pay for the water they use – or waste. The latest Spring Statement saw the Chancellor provide initial details of the Future Homes Standard, designed to ensure improved resource efficiency in new building developments. For commercial property meanwhile, the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) has already been extended to include retrofit as well as new build, encouraging owners and landlords to take extra steps to improve a building’s sustainability credentials.
There may even be more formal guidelines introduced to building standards, particularly in the face of the Hackitt Report, which seeks to improve construction standards across the board. Sustainability in construction has historically been driven by energy efficiency, sustainable materials and new construction methods. But water efficiency is shaping up to be the next big ‘frontier’. As Bevan put it, wasting water must be seen "as socially unacceptable as blowing smoke in the face of a baby or throwing your plastic bag into the sea."
There is a collective responsibility for us all to do our bit to avoid the ‘jaws of death’. The general public can make changes in lifestyle, while it is for property developers, owners, architects, designers, specifiers, consultants and contractors alike to take the lead in ensuring water efficiency is a major element of residential and commercial property.
We believe water leak detection and prevention technology like ours has a significant role to play in this drive to reduce wastage and act as part of a broader water efficiency ‘mix’. As well as the environmental benefits, there are the other practical upsides, including significantly reducing the risk of costly and disruptive water damage. We are already seeing it rise up the agenda but we in the water leak detection industry have our own responsibility to ensure better understanding of what can be achieved.