More demand, less supply

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Each and every day we turn on the tap and think nothing of using the most vital substance of life. Yet water is not an unlimited natural resource, as the inhabitants of Sutton and East Surrey discovered recently when they were banned from using unattended hose-pipes and garden sprinklers by a water company anxious about dwindling water supplies.

Each and every day we turn on the tap and think nothing of using the most vital substance of life. Yet water is not an unlimited natural resource, as the inhabitants of Sutton and East Surrey discovered recently when they were banned from using unattended hose-pipes and garden sprinklers by a water company anxious about dwindling water supplies.

Parts of Britain - notably southern England and Wales - have suffered one of their driest winters for 40 years. Many of the region's underground aquifers, on which 70 per cent of the South-east depends for water, are exceptionally low. Some are at only half capacity.

Lack of water may seem strange for a country that is notoriously prone to wet weather, but the facts clearly speak for themselves. Much of southern Britain has experienced just 60 per cent of its normal rainfall between November and May, which has not been enough to recharge groundwater supplies.

Much of Western Europe is in the same situation. Portugal has suffered it worst winter drought in 300 years, Spain had its lowest winter rainfall in 60 years and France experienced a similar winter drought to Britain.

It is too early to say whether there is wider significance in this. All the evidence suggests that climate change is happening, but the computer models actually predict that global warming will result in wetter winters for Britain and other Atlantic countries rather than the drier winters we have been experiencing.

What is not in dispute, however, is that demand for water is continuing to rise. Each person in Britain uses, on average, about 150 litres (40 gallons) of water per day. About 50 of these litres are used for personal washing and another 40 litres are flushed down the lavatory.

The increase in power showers, garden sprinklers, dishwashers and other water-extravagant devices has had an impact on the amount of water we use. There should be nothing inherently wrong with being able to enjoy water, provided that each of us does our bit to preserve this vital natural resource in whatever way we can.

In fact, the measures we can take are relatively simple. Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth, take a shower rather than a bath, water your garden in the evening rather than at midday or wash your car with a bucket and not a power spray.

But equally, the water companies must do more. About 3 billion litres of water a day are still being lost through leaks. Admittedly, this is better than 10 years ago when the figure was 5 billion litres a day, but water companies still have much to do to ensure that we do not lose what water we have. Water deserves our respect, and we must all work harder to save it.

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