The coronavirus lockdown, combined with the driest May on record, has led to a surge in household water demand. Dr Geoff Darch, water resources strategy manager at Anglian Water, offers some expert advice on how people can help keep taps running this summer by reducing discretionary water use.

Use water for the right reasons, says Dr Geoff Darch, Water Resources Strategy Manager at Anglian Water        Picture: Anglian Water/Erroll JonesUse water for the right reasons, says Dr Geoff Darch, Water Resources Strategy Manager at Anglian Water Picture: Anglian Water/Erroll Jones

The average daily water consumption in the East of England is approximately 135 litres per person. This figure is lower than the national average of 142 litres, despite our region being among the hottest and driest in the country.

Yet since the coronavirus lockdown there has been a significant change in water demand, particularly concerning household water usage. While non-household demand has decreased as businesses, commercial properties and hospitality venues are closed, domestic water consumption has increased as a large proportion of people made the switch to working from home.

Dr Geoff Darch, water resources strategy manager at Anglian Water, says: “Overall demand has increased by up to 20pc. This is likely due to changes in people’s habits combined with one of the driest springs on record. On the hottest days last month, each person was using enough extra water to make 80 cups of tea on top of their normal daily use.

“We are witnessing a Covid-related increase in water consumption as the public follow government advice on washing hands and clothes.”

Many are turning to DIY projects and gardening to keep themselves occupied. These activities can have implications for water consumption whenever high-intensity water appliances such as hosepipes and power washers are used.

Another contributing factor is the Great British weather.

Many are turning to gardening to keep themselves occupied, which can have implications for water consumption  Picture: Anglian Water/TIM GEORGEMany are turning to gardening to keep themselves occupied, which can have implications for water consumption Picture: Anglian Water/TIM GEORGE

“The fantastic weather we have been experiencing the last two or three weeks has added to demand,” Geoff says. “The sunshine has meant people are filling paddling pools and watering this year’s bedding plants – much more than they would normally need to at this time of year.”

England recorded its sunniest calendar month on record in May 2020. Last month was also the driest ever May and this is the fourth driest spring on record.

These statistics align with Met Office predictions that we are moving towards drier summers due to climate change. This is increasing the strain on water providers as they try to cope with the change in consumer habits brought on by Covid-19.

“We are seeing increases of up to 20pc on warm weekends at peak times,” Geoff says. “What that means for us operationally is running a lot of our assets at the maximum level – something we would normally see during a heatwave. The week before last saw record amounts put into supply, beating summer 2018, and saw parts of the region peaking by over 25pc.”

But Geoff is keen to highlight that there isn’t a problem with the availability of water.

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“Based on resources, we have no need to implement a hosepipe ban this year. We just had a really wet winter. We have enough water in our reservoirs and enough groundwater to continue supplying customers.

“The issue is getting that raw water treated and out through our distribution network to customers in time. There is only so much water we can treat and put through our network into customers’ taps at one time.

“If everyone draws on this supply at the same time, that’s when we run the risk of seeing instances of lower water pressure or interruptions to supply, simply because demand is so high. Although we’ve avoided issues like this so far, we need our customers to help us by thinking carefully about the water they’re using at home.”

Normally, water demand drops off as people leave the region for their summer holidays. However, the likelihood of lockdown staycations could mean added pressure on water resources.

Geoff recommends taking shorter showers, ensuring washing machines are full and fixing leaking toilets in order to alleviate some of that pressure.

“During smart meter trials monitoring consumption in Newmarket and Norwich, we found toilet cisterns leaking up to 400 litres a day – about the average daily consumption of a family of three.

“Ultimately, saving water is not only great for the environment and great for Anglian Water by helping us manage demand, but it is great for customers as you will be able to save on your bill.”

Saving water could also provide vital support to agricultural workers in the East of England, who are currently facing a water shortage that could affect their ability to grow crops.

“At Anglian Water, we’re carefully balancing the demands of our customers with those of the wider environment, but also we are conscious of other water users in our region. Farmers in particular are finding the lack of rainfall difficult at this time. So, we are doing whatever we can to improve their situation and support them, too.”

In order to continue supporting the region’s agricultural workers so that they can continue to put food on our tables, Geoff has some words of advice.

“Use water for the right reasons. It is important that people wash their hands and clothes to stop the spread of coronavirus, but please use water wisely and reuse whatever you can in your homes.

“We ask customers to be as considerate as possible. It really is the little things that add up.

“It all comes back to our core message: Love Every Drop.”

For more information please visit anglianwater.co.uk