12 top tips for saving water

There is only one thing my chemistry teacher ever said that I’ve remembered – that in the future water would become so scarce that wars would be fought over it.  After saying this, he chuckled and added, ‘I’m just glad I won’t be alive to see it.’

 I can’t have been the only pupil left after this grim prophesy with nightmares about Waterwars. (Teachers didn’t go in for trigger warnings in the late ’70s.)

At the time, memories of the drought of 1976 were still fresh in our minds. For my generation this hadn’t seemed such a big deal at first.  Apart from not being able to sleep on sweltering nights more typical of Lisbon than Leeds, there had been considerable upsides to a drought if you were a child.  

Saving water was a good excuse for not washing as thoroughly as expected, the plagues of ladybirds that covered entire walls were frankly fascinating and was there ever a better argument for drinking dandelion and burdock at mealtimes? (But, mum, we’ve got to save water!)

Even the standpipes that were being set up in the streets were something new and interesting. Until, that is, our local standpipe got erected and it wasn’t, as we’d expected, right outside our front door but a good five-minute walk away. A five-minute trek to get water! And queue for ages for it! And carry it home in buckets!  Turned out droughts weren’t as much fun as we’d thought.

Thankfully, rain clouds saved the day before we ever had to trek, queue and carry home what had previously come so easily we’d never given it a second’s thought. But we had learned a very important lesson – water does not necessarily have to be on tap.

According to OFWAT, the water services regulation authority, severe drought is a widespread risk that needs to be managed and we need to act now to avoid severe restrictions to water use in the coming years.

Tips to save water without feeling deprived or depressed

  • Water butts are a no-brainer if you have access to outside space and a downpipe. With a water butt, rainwater falls from the roof into the gutters, but rather than flowing through the downpipes and down the drain, a diverter is inserted to collect it in the butt. Once the water butt  has reached maximum capacity, the rest of the water will simply divert to the drain. In dry weather plants stop making nectar so keeping them well watered for the sake of bees by collecting rainwater makes sense.
  • Keep a jug near the sink and when you want hot water, let the tap run into this rather than down the sink. You can tip this into your water butt or use it to boil the kettle or flush your loo.
  • Stand a bucket in the shower to collect water that would otherwise go down the drain as you wait for it to heat up. Use this to flush the loo.
  • Wash vegetables in a bowl of water and then use this on the garden. You can also use drained, cooled cooking water on the garden.
  • Take a shower instead of a bath. A five-minute shower uses about 40 litres of water, which is about half the volume of a standard bath. And shortening the length of your shower by just one minute also makes a big difference.
  • Fix dripping taps – they can waste enough water in a year to fill a child’s paddling pool every week of the summer.
  • Fit low-flow aerators on taps and showers – you get the same water pressure but use much less water.
  • Turn the tap off while brushing your teeth. A running tap uses up to nine litres of water a minute.
  • A water-saving device in your toilet cistern could save between one and three litres each time you flush the toilet.
  • Use a watering can instead of a sprinkler or hosepipe in the garden.
  • Water the garden during the cool part of the day in the morning or evening. Do not water in anticipation of a shortage. Soil cannot store extra water.
  • Wash clothes when they’re dirty – rely on spot cleaning and the ‘sniff test’ most of the time.

I’m an old hand at this method. It’s something I started doing once my son reached a certain (teen)age and suddenly raised his laundry standards to the level of 5-star hotels preparing for royal visits. Fed up with arguing that his jeans couldn’t possibly need washing after a mere two hours’ wear, I developed a secret new system:

1. Pick jeans out of laundry basket.

2. Hang up in wardrobe.

 I probably did this about 10 times before washing a pair of his jeans. And unless he reads this post he will be none the wiser.   


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