WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE?
Water is our most important resource and our most undervalued one too.
About 70% of the planet is covered in ocean, whilst our ‘blue plant’ seems to have an abundance of water, the amount easily available to us is tiny! Only 2% is freshwater – most is locked up in ice caps, glaciers or underground aquifers and just 0.03% of the planet’s total water supply is found in lakes and rivers.
We depend on the Water Cycle to provide us with fresh, clean water. In Britain today, our water industry has very rigorous standards, but this was not always the case!
The Great Victorian Stink!
In London, by the early 19th century, the city’s population produced so much sewage that it overflowed into nearby streams such as the Fleet and the Holboume – and finally to the Thames, which became a stinking sewer! Death and disease followed and cholera epidemics in London and other cities killed tens of thousands of people.
The Water Cycle
The world has always had the same amount of water. Every drop we drink has been in a continuous ‘water cycle’ for billions of years and may even have been drunk before – perhaps by dinosaurs or pharaohs!
Derrington’s Waste Water
If you live in Derrington, waste water from your toilet, basin and kitchen sink goes into underground pipes below your house, which join up with pipes from other houses and carry your waste to the Derrington Water Treatment Works. Here it undergoes treatment, including screening, filtration, sedimentation, and bacterial treatment, before it is recycled back into the brook.
Water for the Future
Although it seems like we have plenty of water in the UK, our water supplies are unpredictable, subject to extremes in our weather.
During dry periods we face water shortages and hosepipe bans. In contrast, sometimes we are inundated with water.
With the increasing impact of climate change, rising rates of water consumption and the fact that providing clean water and treating waste water is costly – we must all think carefully about our water use!
A little more information ……..
Everyone in the world depends on water, tapping into the Water Cycle in different ways. People extract water from rivers and aquifers (porous rocks that hold water underground), store water in reservoirs, distribute it to where it is needed, clean it before and after use, then return it to the rivers and seas.
- In Britain the water industry has very rigorous standards, but this was not always the case!
- During the Victorian period, as the populations of our major towns and cities grew, sewage became a serious problem.
- The first cholera epidemic occurred in Sunderland in 1831 and this was followed by many more outbreaks across British towns and cities.
- The London epidemics each killed as many as 20,000 people culminating in the notorious ‘Great Stink of London’.
It was clear that a clean water supply was essential, and that proper wastewater treatment was required. So came about the 1848 Public Health Act, which was the catalyst for the provision of safe, clean water and treatment and
disposal of sewerage. This legislation brought about the modern water supply and sewage systems we have today, which in turn has been a model for the rest of the world to follow.
Today water supply and treatment is the responsibility of carefully regulated Water Companies.
The task of providing and treating water for most people in Derrington is carried out by Severn Trent Water, the second largest water company in England and Wales. The Severn Trent Water region covers over 8,000 square miles in central England and mid-Wales. Severn Trent provides water and sewerage services to more than 7 million people. That means a supply of nearly 2,000 million liters of potable (drinking quality) water per day, and treatment of around 2,500 million liters of waste water, or sewage, per day.
Altogether, their sewers and water mains (pipes) could stretch around the world twice – that’s 28,000 miles of water mains and 33,000 miles of sewers! Severn Trent also manages 181 water treatment works and 1,017 sewage treatment works, including the one that treats the waste water we produce in Derrington! While we all expect access to clean water and sanitation, much of the world’s population live without access to clean water or basic sanitation.
According to UNICEF
1.4 million children die every year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. Lack of water is closely related to poverty so it is important to keep sight of the challenges faced by people in poorer countries.
- We each use 150 litres of clean treated water every day.
- A dripping tap can waste up to 30 litres of water a day.
- Garden sprinklers use an enormous amount of water, up to 650 litres per hour. That’s as much as one person would use in 4 days!
Even in the UK we need to use our water resources carefully. Although it seems like we have lots of rain in this country and lots of water to use in fact, the UK is currently seeing the lowest rainfall, groundwater and reservoir levels for decades. With the uncertainties posed by climate change, increasing rates of water consumption, plus the fact that it costs a lot of money to provide clean water to everyone, and to treat our waste water – we need to think carefully about our water use!
River Penk in flood across the Radford Meadows
Aerial view of Derrington Water Treatment Works