Victoria Summerley: Town Life

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The Independent Online

We used to grow vegetables in our garden. This year, thanks to the hosepipe ban, we've scrapped the veggie bed and turned it into a pond. It seemed a bit of a luxury to grow things like tomatoes and lettuces that need constant watering, so we now have a water feature that took three hours to fill - using a hosepipe (perfectly legal under the current restrictions). Would I have been watering vegetables with a hose (illegal under the restrictions) for three hours at this time of year, when it rains every other day? Probably not at all.

Still, the pond won't need filling again. It may even encourage wildlife into the garden. And it did have the benefit of making me look twice at the statistics the water companies are currently pumping out to consumers in the South-east.

To listen to people like Thames Water, you'd think that gardeners wore horns and tails and went around terrorising little old ladies by leaving their hoses on all night. In fact, most London gardeners I know use hosepipes only in extremis - partly because they've never found a plumber to install an outside tap and partly because the water pressure is so bad. In fact, one-third of all household water usage goes not on lawns but straight down the lavatory.

The water companies can advise you on how to reduce this - you can get a thing called a Hippo (or use a brick or a plastic bottle). You may find, however, that the brick or bottle or whatever will stop your loo flushing properly, in which case you have to take it out again. If this happens, it might be worth trying Save-A-Flush crystals instead (also available free from your water company).

What doesn't come free from the company, however, are the services of a plumber, which is what you'll need if you've got a modern, environmentally sound lavatory, the sort with the central button that gives you a low or a high flush. If you're like me, you won't have managed to work out how the hell you take the top off.

What about baths vs showers? We all know that a bath uses more water than a shower. But power showers, which use up to 30 per cent more water than a bath, aren't listed on the water company websites in terms of average use. Yet thousands of London homes have them - again, often because the water pressure is so poor it's the only way to ensure a good stream of hot water.

Neither are there any figures for wetrooms, rapidly becoming a must-have in smart London. Nor are there plans to halt, tax or otherwise penalise homes with wetrooms or six en-suite bathrooms or five lavatories or anything else involving the profligate use of water.

In the meantime, the average householder is made to feel guilty about their labour-saving appliances. Washing machines, the Thames Water site says, use 60 litres per wash. How would you do your washing if you didn't do it in a machine? In the bath? You'd be wasting even more. A bath uses 80 litres of water. I assume you'd want to rinse as well, so that's another bathful - and that's 160 litres for one wash.

Dishwashers use, on average, 20 litres of water - the equivalent of four buckets. So for a family, in terms of water consumption, it makes good sense to have one, as by the time you've filled three or four bowlfuls of water to wash and rinse a meal's worth of pots, pans and dishes, you've used at least that much.

Call me biased, but I can think of better places to start saving water than in my kitchen, or even my kitchen garden. Automated car-washes are astonishingly wasteful, and unlike hand car-wash firms, they don't even have the benefit of providing a handful of people with some sort of employment. And what about gyms? All those showers and plunge pools and steam rooms and hydrotherapy taps - they must use enough water to irrigate the whole of Africa.

I can also think of better people to preach to me about leaking taps and recycling rainwater run-off than the London water companies, with their leaking water mains and drains which, unable to cope with a heavy shower, send the overflow, polluted with sewage, straight into the Thames. They can take their Hippos and their drought orders and go jump in my pond.