Environmental Information Exchange

Water

Depletion of water reserves

The UK has less available water per person than most other European countries. London is drier than Istanbul, and the South East of England has less water available per person than the Sudan and Syria. (Waterwise)

Although water use is essential in all businesses and organisations, by wasting water a business can contribute to water scarcity locally, nationally and even globally.

Water scarcity has knock on effects not just for drinking water supplies. Food production can be affected, while landscapes can be altered and degrade without sufficient water. Extracting too much water from underground reserves can also be damaging. Water tables can fall to levels where they are not recovered with rainfall.

There are strict guidelines on the extraction of water.

For more information on the impacts of water use in the UK visit Waterwise.

Emissions

In the UK systems are in place to remove harmful toxins from water before it is returned to the drinking water supply. However, both the pumping and cleaning of water requires energy. As the majority of energy used in water sanitation comes from fossil fuels, these resources are also depleted, while additional greenhouse gases are emitted which further contributes to climate change. The water industry is one of the most energy intensive sectors in the UK. In 2008/9 the UK water industry used 8,650GWh of energy (Water UK Sustainability Indicators, 2008-9) the equivalent of running 5.5 million TVs non-stop for a year! For hot water in businesses and homes, the carbon emissions are even higher – as the energy used to heat the water must also be considered.

Pollution effects

Any use of water can affect the water quality locally. This means that the process of cleaning and purifying water is more difficult and requires more energy. There are strict guidelines regarding, how where and when discharges into water courses can be made.

Sewage in the UK is often released out to sea. This can cause diseases, as well as washed up items damaging beaches. A major problem in the UK is the disposal of non-sewage items into water such as nappies, medical equipment, oils and fats. These items can cause blockage problems to sewers damaging the infrastructure, and potentially causing problems to human health.

In more extreme cases disposal of chemicals into water courses can destroy biodiversity (see below), and make the process of purifying water almost impossible.

Biodiversity

Water pollution can have extreme effects on water dwelling animals, including fish, mammals and invertebrates. High concentrations of pollutants can wipe out all life in water systems, but even lower levels of pollution can be damaging to aquatic life. Pollution effects are magnified higher up the food chain. Even low levels of contaminants in low food chain can accumulate in higher predators such as fish, birds and mammals. For animals that become part of the human food chain (such as fish species like tuna) these pollutants can build up in humans.