Once again, parts of the UK - particularly the South East - have been hit by water shortages resulting in hosepipe bans and some homeowners now face the potential prospect - for the first time since 1976 - of having to obtain water from stand pipes in the streets should the dry weather continue.
Jon Jinks, managing director of Shropshire-based Osprey Irrigation takes a look at the need for water conservation and how grey water harvesting holds the key to providing enough water to meet all our needs.
It has become very apparent over the past two to three years that the supply of water for both domestic and commercial applications is becoming increasingly a major concern. The only way that this can be sensibly tackled is through a combination of government legislation and an education programme designed to make people aware of the issues.
Up until now water - as a commodity - has been cheap and freely available throughout the UK. However, in the years ahead, this is set to change with restrictions likely to be placed on water usage unless a cohesive strategy for its conservation can be implemented.
The sensible way forward is a practice known as grey water harvesting, which is extensively used in the United States and in Africa. If the UK widely implemented such a policy, there would not be a water shortage in the South east. Simple measures such as harvesting rainwater dripping from roofs into butts, through to catching drain water from sports arenas for recycling would make a significant difference. However, initially, there would need to be an investment in treatment equipment and winter storage facilities.
As a responsible company, we specify and install systems that should be able to accommodate working practices in 10-15 years time, which will almost certainly need to accommodate incorporate grey water harvesting techniques.
Not too far into the future, it will be impractical for the end-user to purchase mains water from the local water board for application of turf irrigation, or other public areas of irrigation such as golf courses and leisure parks. Such a stance will be due to policy decisions made by the Environmental Agency and the Government of the day looking to ensure that drinking water needs to be available 'on-tap.'
It is clear that only a small percentage of companies/end-users are now discussing where water will be sourced from around 2010 onwards. The vast majority are either unaware, or choose to ignore for the time being the potential problem that water scarcity will bring without effective collective measures in place.
If water were to be only available from the mains supply, then the cost of using it would be impractical, with sky high water rates. Managers of both private and municipal golf courses are increasingly looking to water recycling and more efficient water management policies. This is hardly surprising when you consider that a typical course irrigation system has thousands of metres of underground pipework and poor or aged jointing will result in costly underground leaks.
However, a properly designed and installed course management system could half the water usage compared to an archaic one. Today, courses should be self sustaining when it comes to water usage. Generally, this is achieved by drilling bore holes in the ground and utilising water from there. However, this could end up being a short term fix, with The Environment Agency now being reluctant to renew abstraction licences in some areas. The long-term solution to the provision of sustainable water for irrigation and other non-drinking purposes again goes back to real main solution with the harvesting of Grey Water.
Clearly, the UK is subject to significant rainfall each year, so if we can 'catch' and harvest significant amounts, there should never be a water shortage. Currently, most rainfall comes off the land, runs back into the rivers and subsequently channeled into the sea.
The options open to us are catching rainfall in channel storage, or catchment areas in hooded bay storage reservoirs; as well as the rescue of water coming off buildings. This would require the installation of filtration and separation plants to bring the water that would have gone down the foul drains up to a suitable standard for use on the land or sports field etc.
Moving towards grey water harvesting will happen slowly but surely and I can foresee grants being made available by government to speed up the process. Whilst there is clearly an initial investment involved when installing an appropriate system to catch rainwater, ongoing cost savings mean it would usually pay for itself very quickly.
Every garden will almost certainly have, within perhaps a decade or so, a water butt to catch rainwater, which can be utilised for such tasks as watering the garden, or washing the car.
For larger commercial applications, rigid underground honeycomb tanks would be increasingly called upon to harvest rainwater. Hundreds, or thousands of gallons of water would be stored within a large vessel and drawn out by pumps.
To date, the vast majority of the UK has enjoyed endless supplies of cheap water and here in Shropshire, where I live and work, we are a water rich area on the edge of North Wales and unlikely to sustain any problems. However, an infrastructure will need to be put in place in the coming years to ensure regions such as the South East will be able to draw off water from other areas.
The water debate may currently rate as the odd drip of concern in the overall consciousness of the nation, but over the next decade it will become more of a river of concern.
For further information please contact Jon Jinks at Osprey Irrigation on 01939 236677 or 07974 423888.