Dry Norfolk

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By Garry Stanton

Water is a precious resource, especially in a dry county like ours. We use an average of 133 litres – 29 gallons – of water a day. But can we keep using it at this rate?

The long hot summer last year attracted many news headlines warning people about the potential for water shortages and hosepipe bans. In Norfolk, it is not widely known that many farmers had abstraction restrictions placed on them by the Environment Agency as aquifer levels fell.

It’s at times like these when, perhaps, people may just realise how much we take water for granted, but when the weather turns to autumn and winter we soon forget how precious this liquid is. But colder weather does not mean we are out of danger.

According to the National Drought Group “a drier than average winter would bring the risk of restrictions on water company customers”. The National Farmers Union have discussed ‘borrowing’ 2019 abstraction allocations, but this could only be a one-off strategy and risks creating shortages the following year.

East Anglia is one of the UK’s driest regions and faces some tough, longer term water resource challenges. Depending upon different scenarios, Anglian Water’s Water Resources Management Plan predicts that by 2045 there will be a forecast water deficit of between 307 million and 472 million litres a day, largely attributable to population growth and climate change. This is a water deficit equivalent to that required to supply a city the size of Birmingham.

Potential solutions to this challenge include importing water to Norfolk from elsewhere and the construction of a sea water desalination plant, but these may have significant costs and environmental impacts.

Reducing distribution network leakage, adopting water recycling and consumption reduction may present more quickly available options.

Water companies are required to “fix leaks, as long as the cost of doing so is less than the cost including environmental damage of not fixing the leak”. Nationally over 3 billion litres per day is lost from water companies distribution networks with Anglian Water’s current three year average at 189 million litres per day against their own target of 172 million by 2020. We can all play our part by reporting leaks, and never assume that someone else will have already done so.

Water recycling is commonplace in other countries and we seriously need to start looking at this option. Government should be challenging the construction industry to adopt more innovative ways to reduce domestic water consumption by, for example, harvesting rainwater for toilet flushing and garden watering.

In East Anglia each person currently uses an average of 133 litres of water per day, of which 4% is used for drinking and 96% for other domestic chores. If we were having to fetch and carry this water it would equate to moving 133 kg on a daily basis – perhaps that would make us think twice about using our water more efficiently.

We all have our part to play in reducing water consumption no matter how small, and there are some great consumption reduction tips on Anglian Water’s website. If we all reduce our consumption by a few litres per day it will contribute to protecting our valuable water resources, reduce energy consumption, shave a few pounds off household bills, protect our local environment and help prevent future rationing and higher bills.

This article appeared in the January 2019 edition of the Norfolk Magazine.

Norfolk Magazine January 2019
A droplet of water
Image by rony michaud from Pixabay
A footpath alongside a hedgerow and farmland in the Norfolk countryside