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Drinking Our Rivers Dry?

In Britian, most of our water comes from rivers and the vast underground aquifers that feed them. But environmentalists fear we are pushing some of them and the wildlife they support to the edge.

With many of our rivers at the limit of what can sustainably be taken from them, Simon Boazman investigates whether the water industry and its regulators are doing enough to protect the nation's delicate ecosystems.

Simon also asks how much we actually know about the water we consume, how much we use and where it comes from? With a bit of effort, how much less water can we use?

We welcome your views on this week's Panorama, please use this forum to leave a comment.


  • Comment number 1.

    The programme didn't discuss water recycling within the home such as re-using grey water, etc. I believe they should of - they could have supplied options and ideas and not just given the view that all water used within the home needed to come from the tap.

  • Comment number 2.

    I thought I'd post to tell you a little about what went on behind the scenes as we can all make a real difference to our water use.

    At the start of the week we were using about the UK average (440l per day for a household of 4) 150l each for the adults and 150l shared between the children.

    We cut our real water usage down to ~ 50l per person by making changes we all can do:

    Before we thought about our water usage our typical use was as follows:

    - We didn't time our showers,
    - The Kids had nice deep baths
    - We put the dishwasher on every night irrespective of whether it was completely full
    - Clothes washing sometimes happened with half loads
    - used both buttons all the time on the dual flush toilet
    - Ran water just to flush waste food through the waste disposal unit
    - sometimes we would use the hosepipe on the garden (quite rare mind as most of the time we would use water from the water butt)

    After chatting with Cath from ech2o (https://www.ech2o.co.uk/%29 we made some easy changes:

    - Cut our showers down to 4 minutes
    - Reduced how full we ran the bath - we used the same 4 minutes timer for the shower, but this time used it to time how long the taps were on for - in 4 minutes our bath filled to approx 10cm.
    - Washed Pans up by hand, thus creating more space in the dishwasher for other items.
    - Only put the dishwasher on when it was completely full
    - Only put the washing machine on when we had enough clothes for a full load
    - Used the dual flush toilets correctly.
    - Used the left over washing up water to wash down the food waste into the waste disposal unit

    Cath also included a couple of technological solutions - the tap aerator/regulator, aerated shower head, these were supplied by AquaLogic (https://www.aqualogic-wc.com/%29.

    I do understand there are further savings that can be made using water recycling, but what we have demonstrated is that you can cut your water usage quite dramatically by making just a few small adjustments.

    Please can you all take a moment to think about the difference you can make as this current water demand is having a real and noticeable impact on our local environment.

  • Comment number 3.

    The small stream close to where I live is degraded in the way shown in the programme. The stream bed is covered in a carpet of brown filth. It wasn't like this when I was a boy 50 years ago.
    However as with all programmes like this the elephant in the room is only mentioned in passing. Overpopulation is the root cause of many of these problems. The programme mentioned that by 2050 the population was expected to be 20 million larger than it is now and it is much larger now than when I was young. That is the problem which needs to be exposed and discussed. Just how many people can this country and the wider planet sustain with a decent standard of living? The often used phrase, "sustainable growth" is usually quoted to pretend that we can go on in a similar way to that we have employed so far. This is an absolute phantasy. When are the media going to open a serious discussion on population?

  • Comment number 4.

    Given the long period of dry weather experienced in the southeast this summer, I was amazed that my water supplier, Veolia, did not, at the very least, impose a hose pipe ban. Since they received no information about the situation, most people were not aware that they should make an effort to conserve water and thus reduce the need to extract supplies from our hard pressed water courses.

  • Comment number 5.

    Well done to the BBC for highlighting the plight of England's precious chalk rivers and the environmentally unsustainable pillaging of groundwater by water companies. Water metering in homes should be mandatory - our use of gas and electricity is metered, so why not water? People must be encouraged to think about freshwater as a valuable natural resource. If we don't get our act together chalk rivers and the many wildlife species that depend on them will be just the first ecological casualties of unsustainable development and population growth in England.

  • Comment number 6.

    An interesting and timely programme, clearly flagging some challenges ahead. However the evidence presented was bias, cliched and was presented out of context at key points. I wondered if the researchers had read much further than WWFs own material? Of course we should use less water but environmental legislation is stronger than it has ever been, and the costs of restoring rivers is huge at a time when there is little money available. SDW (P.S. Consumption 80 litres per day with few water efficiency features. Where are all the people using 200+ to get an average of 150?)

  • Comment number 7.

    I just wanted to add some figures to Jamie’s excellent post about how the Mcrobie family reduced their use. I think he showed really clearly how easy it is to save water by first understanding how much you use where, analysing where the easiest savings can be made, and then putting that knowledge into practice! As the programme showed, even families that use at or near the UK average can still make easy savings. During filming of the programme we recorded a lot of footage talking about precisely these issues, including lots of numbers, but unfortunately those bits didn’t survive the editing process.

    So, some numbers…………………

    Shower: The biggest savings came from reducing the time they are in the shower and for the kids, how much water they use in the bath. The family has two showers. The one they use most is a walk in shower which has a large shower head. Luckily it is flow regulated and the flow is only 8 litres/minute. However ten minutes at 8 litres a minute is 80 litres a day; over half the UK average water consumption used every morning in the shower. By reducing their shower time down from ten minutes to four minutes Marie and Jamie each save 48 litres of water a day.

    Bath: I love the idea that the children have cut their bath use down to four minutes as well in so far as they fill the bath up for four minutes using the timer. Jamie says it fills to about 10 cm deep. That’s probably about 60 - 80 litres of water in the bath, which is a saving of between 80 - 100 litres per bath.

    Toilet: The family has a 6/4 litre dual flush toilet. If the family use their toilet at the UK average rate of 5 times a day at home, by ensuring they always use the short flush when they have just had a wee, the family will save 32 litres of water per day.

    Dishwasher: Most people who have a dishwasher don’t use it as efficiently as they could. The family’s dishwasher uses 14 litres of water each time they use it. They halved their dishwasher use.

    Water efficiency retrofits: The Mcrobie house has very high water pressure (6 bar as compared to the average 2-3 bar). This means that flow rates are high too, and when taps are left running the potential for wastage is far higher than in homes with low water pressure. The flow regulator I fitted at the kitchen tap reduced the flow rate to 6 litres/minute from over 12 litres/minute previously. The efficient shower head I fitted on the bath shower reduced the flow rate from 15 litres/minute%2

  • Comment number 8.

    I agree with SDW - this was disappointingly superficial. I would have thought investigative journalists of Panorama's undoubted calibre could have uncovered some more inspiring material. Why didn't they ask the Environment Agency rep what he meant by "a more dynamic relationship between the environment and abstraction" (surely not just licence trading) and why not pin the Thames Water man down on quoting procedure for the Kennet borehole replacement or even look at the social and environmental advantages of reservoirs? Also why do the cost estimates for putting it right range from 3 to £26billion - what does that say about the underlying science?
    Good to see Ed Jones make an appearance - but all those weeds in the potatoes won't help the soil moisture!


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