Following my previous article on Climate Change, conflict and a growing refugee crisis, we continue our exploration into the effects of climate change, as Dave Sanderson writes about our water use in Greater Manchester and how our increasing usage can be better managed as the climate warms and our weather becomes more unpredictable…
How much water do you use each day, on average? A gallon? Don’t forget flushing the loo and your share of the washing machine. 5 gallons? How does 32 gallons or 150 litres sound? Surely not! But it’s true. Even more amazing is that when you count the water used to grow and prepare your food and to produce all the other things you use (such as the textiles for your clothes), this figure increases enormously to 747 gallons, according to Waterwise. Does this matter?
Everyone says it rains a lot around here. Oldham typically gets 43 inches of rain a year, Greater Manchester 32 inches. Greater Manchester has an area of 493 square miles; if you imagine all of that covered by over a yard of water you’d think we would have plenty. But wait a minute; there are 2.7 million of us. What is more, much of the rainfall soaks into the ground, evaporates or drains down the rivers.
In fact, neither Oldham nor Greater Manchester can manage on the water that falls on their land area, simply because they are so densely populated. Greater Manchester uses roughly twice as much, importing half of what it uses from the Lake District and the River Dee. Is this sustainable or desirable? Probably not though there is an overlooked benefit. The extra flow out of our waste pipes not only makes up 92% of the flow of the Irwell and 50% of the Mersey, it is helping bring back salmon and otters into our rivers…proof it is very clean.
If you assume nothing is ever going to go wrong, the current reliance on imported water is just fine. It has worked well so far so why worry? But life’s not like that. Ever had a hose pipe ban? Seen the floods on the TV? Rainfall is becoming more unpredictable and extreme as the climate changes. If by planting more trees and maintaining wetlands we could hold back more water during storms, it would be available to us later, solving both the flood and drought problems. That implies close collaboration between many organisations and individuals, not just farmers, naturalists and water companies.
Water use has been increasing by 1% per year since 1930. Why? It’s largely a cultural thing, as people become more concerned about their health and cleanliness. Water matters for childcare and plays a part in leisure activities. But clearly our use cannot keep increasing forever. Water also costs a lot. Who likes paying their water rates? Any sign of them going down? I thought not. There is also an equality issue too; the little old lady living alone pays the same as the family who power shower twice a day and pressure wash the SUV regularly.
So let’s suppose we wanted to reduce water consumption by decreasing water wasted rather than by restricting use. Could it be done? The 25% of water that is lost through leaks should be reduced (but urban street trees might die!) but zero leakage would not be cost-effective. If we all had water meters, those who use most would pay more. That’s fair and would reduce waste. We don’t need expensive drinking quality water for flushing loos, cooling machinery in factories or watering the garden, so if more buildings captured the rain that falls on their roofs and used it for these tasks, costs to users would fall. More lakes and water features would cool our urban areas and houses in this warming world. So we could get a win / win; lower bills and a better environment.
For information on you can help prevent the worst impacts of climate change, visit our guide here.