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Sharing a watering hole with a dinosaur

Jack Straker

Published: 2020-04-09

I am drinking the same water as a T-Rex. My inner child (not buried particularly deep, I am told) is a big fan of this fact. As far as we know, since humans existed, we have not created any ‘new’ water and comparatively little has escaped to space. On the face of it, water isn’t going anywhere, and there is loads of it. It should be noted that there is a big difference between freshwater and saltwater. Freshwater makes up around 3% of all the water on earth, and only a third of this is accessible (i.e. not in icecaps and glaciers). Nonetheless, that’s 12,340,000,000,000,000,000 litres give or take a pint or two, so probably enough to be getting on with.

Often, UK companies in the built environment space prioritise saving energy in the form of power or heat over saving water. To an extent, I understand this viewpoint: energy is a bigger cost centre than water so warrants more attention; thanks to the water cycle, anything we waste will come back to us anyway; it is hard to talk seriously about the importance of conserving water given our apparent abundance of it due to the recent generosity of Kiara, Dennis and Jorge. If anything, Yorkshiremen devastated by the floods will be looking for ways to get rid of the stuff.

In Britain, water is not so far up the agenda. It is cheap here, and a hosepipe ban is a rare and welcome sign that we are possibly approaching atmospheric conditions that characterise what any other self-respecting country refers to as “summer”. If you are paying a couple of quid for a thousand litres of water, how motivated are you going to be to invest in expensive water-saving technologies?

However, there are other factors to consider: societal, economic and ecological. Globally speaking, almost a billion people don’t have access to a basic drinking-water service (a safe water source within a 30-minute round trip of the home). Looking to the future, even Britain is not safe – with population and temperatures on the rise, the strain on the nation’s water will be felt which will cause a rise in the price of water. Finally, consider the carbon impact of water – whether this is water recycling in the UK or water generation in Malta (25% of Malta’s fossil fuel-heavy energy bill comes from converting seawater to freshwater).

If we widen our gaze and think strategically about water as an asset that we (in the UK, at least) are currently over-using and under-valuing, and (most importantly of all) consider the potential cost to businesses of a water shortage, the writing is on the wall. Sustainability is no longer merely the pseudo-religion of hippies and hipsters alike, but an economic driver, quite apart from being a moral imperative. This was a key part of my last blog touching on the plight and potential of the much-maligned north of England.

It can be argued that the combination of coal and capitalism has helped raise the majority of the world’s population out of extreme poverty. However, it can also be argued that an excess of both has had, ahem, tricky environmental and societal consequences. I believe that our view of water has – until recently – been similar to our view of fossil fuels; we are only beginning to understand the impact of our over-reliance on it.

As with water, there is an economic argument for looking to curb our fossil fuels reliance as well as a societal (fumes are harder to breathe than air) and ecological (to the best of our knowledge the world is heating up): fossil fuels are a finite resource however much fracking we do, and we are getting more numerous. Similarly, as we cannot economically increase its supply, we must lessen the demand on freshwater by looking to water-saving technologies. It is hard to say we are running out of water with a straight face given what is going on elsewhere in the country, but it is better to be well-prepared. I will be waiting with bated breath to see what water conservation provisions are made in Section L of the Building Regulations coming out later this year; my inner child is slightly less enthused.