Monday, 4 May 2015

Living with water: an integrative approach for managing water use

Picture 1: The meandering River Cuckmere in the South Downs, East Sussex, UK

About water where I live

Living in a part of the world that has abundant water, and at the same time reading about drought-stricken parts of the world, I am compelled to take a closer look at this magical resource, water, especially freshwater, that we humans and many others in the web of life depend upon.  I’m very fortunate to live in southeast England, in an area called the South Downs (Pic. 1) which receives on an average, 950 mm of rainfall per year (Pic. 2; Met Office 2015).  The local geology of the area further helps in containing the rainwater, as the bedrock is Chalk (Pic. 3), a type of powdery textured Limestone, which serves as an excellent aquifer for storing as well as filtering water to keep it pure and clear.  The island of United Kingdom receives most of its rainfall from moisture-laden winds blowing over the Gulf Stream, the warm surface current in the Atlantic Ocean (UK Environmental Change Network 2015).

Seven Sisters cliffs and the coastguard cottages, from Seaford Head showing Cuckmere Haven (looking east - 2003-05-26).jpg
Picture 3.  Chalk cliffs in the South Downs. 

Rainfall average (1981 - 2010)
Picture 2. Average annual rainfall in the UK





The future scenario

What I’ve described above is wonderful in that those of us living here should have no concern for freshwater availability.  However, we are faced with a warming climate and consequently the possibility of changing patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulations.  In the future, the Gulf Stream may change its course and the UK may not benefit from its warm waters for its moderate climate and abundant rainfall.  Another cause for concern in the near future regarding the availability of freshwater in the southeast is from the activity of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of shale rock for obtaining methane gas.  The South Downs area has been identified as a shale rock hydrocarbon resource (British Geological Survey 2015a).  If fracking is done, large quantities of fresh water will be required, and there is the added concern of contamination of underground water aquifers as well as surface water bodies with the chemical fluids used for fracking, although the British Geological Survey argues otherwise (British Geological Survey 2015b).  

A preemptive strategy for living with water rather than living for water

Bearing the future scenario in mind which may alter the current situation of plentiful water in southeast England, here is a strategy for sustainable living to help cope with future water shortage as well as its conservation.  If every home has a water-meter installed it will give users a clear idea of how much water they use, and how they could reduce their consumption, if possible.  Home backyards or gardens could have a vegetable patch where vegetables and fruits that are endemic (local) to the area can be grown.  This will help reduce the water footprint of the household, if an effort is made to eat vegetables that grown naturally in an area.  This is already done to some extent in the UK where people rent a patch of land called an allotment, from the local city council, for growing fruits, flowers, and vegetables.  Foraging courses could be offered by city councils to educate people on edible plants that grow naturally (or invasively) in an area.  In a region of abundant rainfall, houses could easily reduce their water bill and help conserve water by installing a rainwater harvesting system (Pic. 4; Innovating Water Solutions 2015; Mother Earth News 2015) that collects rainwater, which could be used for watering the garden and for various other uses where tap-water is not exclusively required.  Eco-friendly household appliances could be used which consume less water and electricity.  As an example, for small and less soiled laundry loads, a mechanical washing machine could be used (Pic. 5, Goods Home Design 2015).   
Picture 4.  A rain barrel for harvesting rainwater.

Picture 5: Pedal-powered washing machine.
To reduce the water footprint as a result of energy usage, government incentives could be given to households to use energy sources that consume less water such as photovoltaic cells and wind-powered electricity.  Industrial and government buildings should implement this scheme wherever possible.  Community colleges, universities and other institutions that disseminate information and education should play an active role in raising public awareness on water-related issues and the mitigation of the same.  Super-markets and local grocery stores should have 'water-footprint' leaflets of common food products made available to shoppers, which may make people more aware of their own water footprint while shopping for groceries.

I live very close to my work place, so I walk to work every day, which makes my commuting water footprint nil.  I am also a vegetarian, and although my food water-footprint is lower than regular meat-eaters, I do realise that by consuming wheat, rice, oils, fruits, and vegetables, I have a significantly large indirect consumption of water, which  I am now looking to reduce.  I am also looking into ways by which I can reduce my annual usage of refrigerator and electricity appliances.


British Geological Survey. 2015a. “Jurassic shale of the Weald Basin: resource estimation report.” Accessed 02 May.

British Geological Survey. 2015b. “BGS maps help understand relationship between groundwater and fracking.”  Accessed 02 May.
Goods Home Design. 2015.  “Pedal-Powered Washer Needs No Electricity and Costs Only $40.” Accessed May 02.

Innovative Water Designs. 2015.  "Rainwater Harvesting Methods." Accessed May 04.
Met Office. 2015.  “How much does it rain in the UK?” Accessed May 02.

Mother Earth News. 2015.  “Build a Rainwater Harvesting System.” Accessed May 02.

UK Environmental Change Network.  2015.  "3.1 Factors affecting climate-ocean currents."  Accessed 04 May.

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