The ecological context behind your tap water

Every time we turn on a tap we take water from nature. A lot. On average customers in the Bristol Water area need somewhere in the region of 270 million litres a day! That’s 270,000 tonnes of water we take from the environment. This water is unfit for human consumption and requires energy and chemicals to clean it. The dirtier the water the more intensive the cleaning required and so more chemicals and energy are needed. Even this cleansing process will leave some level of waste that in turn also needs cleaning.


We only drink or cook with a very small proportion of the water we take from the environment, but regardless, this water has to be cleaned to almost an unimaginably high level of purity we refer to, rather simplistically, as wholesome.  This, of course means healthy in the context of human consumption, the water in its more natural state was perfectly wholesome for the flora and fauna whence it came.


Once clean we normally add more chemicals in the form of a disinfectant and send it out into supply.  Water travels through a network of pipes and large storage tanks all of which must keep enough water in the system to cater for the daily fluxes in use at the key supply periods in a day, namely breakfast,  lunch and dinner. All of this takes a lot of energy.


So, the simple, innocuous  act of turning on a tap to fill up a glass of water, has had a significant impact on the environment in a number of demonstrable ways.

The fact we can all take water for granted is one of the great triumphs of modern civilisations. Although we all know that the Romans had sophisticated water supply systems, enough water to supply their exquisite fountains and water features was well. Even more impressive was the city of Petra in Jordan. Located in arid desert, some 2000 years ago, with some very impressive hydraulic engineering involving  water collection channels carved into the rocks and deep storage tanks  it built an extensive water supply systems  that supported a population of up to 25,000 inhabitants.


As a water company we take enormous pride in being responsible for this service, and we have been doing it for Bristol since 1846! We are all too aware of how many people world-wide cannot take water for granted. We want customers to use and enjoy it for all their needs. But, not to waste it!Perhaps the nature of having a service be so easy to take for granted makes the act of saving it harder. The connection between its source and all the work needed to deliver it are somewhat remote from the action of turning on a tap.


The driver for saving water should actually be the same one as spurs us to recycle, reuse and cut out waste in all our activities at home, work and leisure. Using less water has the dual impact of lowering the emissions created to clean and move this extremely heavy product and leaving more for nature’s use. It is the easiest of actions to do and does not lesson the utility of the service in any way. All it requires is an inclusion onto the habits and outlook of all of us. Like all acts to cut down on waste it is a personal choice.  And the first step is to recognise that water is a part of our daily lives of using resources. 


To help customers we provide a wide range for free equipment and we offer plenty of advice and tips. We know It’s hard to equate a simple action like brushing your teeth with anything more than very good personal hygiene. But, in the context outlined here, turning the tap off when brushing teeth will help the environment. Simple maths tells us that cleaning your teeth twice a day for two minutes with the tap left on will waste somewhere in the region of 4000 litres in a year. That’s four tonnes of water needlessly extracted from nature, and this is just the actions to ensure one set of clean teeth.


The use of water has become so second nature, so ubiquitous that is almost of victim of its own success. The question is one of value and it’s one that each of us has to decide for ourselves. If you are the sort of person who diligently recycles every week, or you try to reuse packaging or containers to extend their life and usefulness, perhaps you avoid buying products that you feel have too much packaging, or are made of plastic.  These are all personal choices and adding water to the list of positive actions is all we ask.