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  • Water usage: What is drinking water in this country used for? How much does every person use per day?
  • Projects: What projects regarding drinking water (supply or demand management) are planned, on-going or completed in this country?
  • Opportunities and threats: What are the biggest problems facing this country in the future? What is being done to solve them?
  • Norms and regulations: How is drinking water regulated? Are there efficiency standards for water-using appliances?
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United Kingdom

The UK's drinking water comes from surface as well as groundwater. The surface/groundwater ratio varies by region. In London and the Southeast, groundwater accounts for around 70 per cent of the total water supply, whereas in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the groundwater share is below 10 per cent 1.

The UK water industry draws water from more than 1,500 boreholes, 650 reservoirs and 600 river abstraction points 2.


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Does the country have plenty of drinking water or is it scarce?

Availability

Contrary to popular opinion, the UK is not a particularly wet country. The available water per person is less than in many other countries, and parts of the UK are considered water-stressed by international standards.

How come parts of the UK are considered water-stressed?
For the UK as a whole, annual internal renewable freshwater resources amount to 2,311 litres per person 1 which is above the benchmark for water stress. However, freshwater is unevenly distributed across the UK. Some of the wettest areas are also the least densely populated, while the highest population density is found in the comparatively dry Southeast of England. The Environment Agency states in a 2008 report that “when we take population density into account (…), we actually have less water per person in Southeast England than many hotter, drier countries such as Morocco and Egypt." 2

Another measure of water stress outlined in the Environment Agency report is the percentage of effective rainfall (i.e. rainfall not lost through evaporation) that is abstracted in an area. If more than 20 per cent is abstracted, local water resources are considered under stress. While in Scotland less than 5 per cent of all rainfall is abstracted, the average for England and Wales is about 10 per cent. However, in Southeast England it is more than 20 per cent 3.

At least it always rains in the UK, right?
All around the world, when people think of the UK, they think of a rainy country. However, this only applies to certain parts of the UK. Scotland, Wales and the Northwest of England do get a lot of rain; London and the Southeast less so.
In the UK generally, rain is more frequent and heavier in winter than in summer. This is important, as the winter rain can be stored for use in the drier summer months. Thus a lack of winter rain results in sustained drought. In spring 2012, groundwater and reservoir levels were so low that water companies had to impose use restrictions, the so-called hosepipe ban, across many parts of England.


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How widespread is access to safe drinking water and sanitation? What condition are pipes and sewers in?

Infrastructure

What is the situation regarding access to water and sanitation in the UK?
Access to improved water supply and sanitation is universal in the UK, reaching almost 100 per cent in urban and rural areas alike 1.

Who provides drinking water and sewerage services?
Drinking water and sewerage services in England are provided by a number of private utility companies. In Wales, services are provided by Welsh Water, a not-for-profit private company. In Scotland and Northern Ireland public companies (Scottish Water and Northern Ireland Water) are responsible for water and sanitation provision.

What is the situation regarding water infrastructure?
The UK water companies manage a vast network of around 400,000 kilometres of mains as well as nearly 24 million connection points to properties and supply pipes within customers’ homes and buildings 2.
The water and sewerage systems are ageing; many date back to Victorian times. More than half the mains below London and many other major UK cities are reckoned to be over 100 years old; around one third are more than 150 years old 3. Huge investments are required to maintain and renew the UK’s water infrastructure.

How much water is lost by leaks?
Ofwat, the economic water industry regulator in England and Wales, sets annual leakage targets for water companies; so do the Water Industry Commission for Scotland and the Utility Regulator in Northern Ireland.

Estimated losses through leaks for 2011/2012 are as follows: 456789

RegionLosses (in million litres per day)Approximate leakage rate (in %)
England and Wales 3,288 22
Scotland 629 30
Northern Ireland 168 28 (2012/13)


How common are water meters in UK households?

Around a third of households in England, 25 per cent in Wales and very few in Scotland and Northern Ireland meter their water use; the rest pay a fixed charge 10. Contrast this with Australia or Germany, where nearly all households have installed a water meter.


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What is drinking water in this country used for? How much does every person use per day?

Water usage

Almost half of all abstracted freshwater in England and Wales is used for the public water supply, and the other half to generate electricity (especially to cool power plants), for irrigation, fish farming, etc. 1


How much water do people in the UK use?
According to Waterwise, every person in the UK uses 150 litres of water per day on average 2. Daily use per person is higher (around 170 litres) in households without a water meter in the water-stressed areas of the Southeast 3. Some organisations, among them the Institution of Civil Engineers, have called for a 30 per cent reduction in household water consumption 4.


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What projects regarding drinking water (supply or demand management) are planned, on-going or completed in this country?

Projects

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What are the biggest problems facing this country in the future? What is being done to solve them?

Opportunities and Threats

The current situation (i.e. uncertain/variable water supply paired with growing demand) is widely expected to get worse. The population in all parts of the UK will continue to grow in the next decades. This means that the limited freshwater supplies will need to be shared among an ever-larger number of people.

As in many countries, more people means more demand for electricity. Generating more electricity in turn requires yet more water.

Climate change impact
Climate change will lead to more variable rainfall in the UK. Hence, at times very little water may be available for use. The danger of severe floods will also increase. Rising temperatures are, again, expected to result in greater demand for water.

Reduce demand for water
One way of making existing supplies go further is to reduce the amount of water people use every day by getting them to change their behaviour. The Waterwise initiative has been started to help achieve this goal.
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    How is drinking water regulated? Are there efficiency standards for water-using appliances?

    Norms and Regulations

    The UK government has established voluntary measures to promote water efficiency in construction. In the Code for Sustainable Homes, measures of sustainable design for new homes in the UK are set out in order to reduce carbon emissions across nine categories, among them energy/CO2 and water.

    Who makes sure drinking water is safe?
    Drinking water standards in the UK, as in all member states, are set out by the European Union and implemented nationally. The Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) enforces drinking water standards in England and Wales. Their main task is to ensure that water companies supply safe drinking water. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, there are two similar regulators: The Drinking Water Quality Regulator for Scotland (DWQR) and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

    What is the ECA scheme?
    Tax incentives exist for businesses to employ water-efficient machinery. As part of the Enhanced Capital Allowance (ECA) scheme, businesses can write off investments in water-efficient products such as taps, toilets or cleaning equipment.
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      09:34, 18 Sep 2014watersaving.comSwitzerland
      09:33, 18 Sep 2014watersaving.comSwitzerland
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