Hydropolitics and hydropsychology are on a global scale, with the possibility of water wars and a ‘liquid gold’ resource becoming ‘the next oil’. Now, with the realities of water scarcity already being seen, we consider the implications closer to home and the role of buildings in bringing water neutrality to bear.
We need water wastage to be as socially unacceptable as blowing smoke in the face of a baby or throwing your plastic bags into the sea.
These were the attention-grabbing words of Environment Agency Chief Executive Sir James Bevan at the 2019 Waterwise Conference, driving home the importance of the need for us to take responsibility for our own water usage. Sir James used smoking, seatbelts and single-use plastics as clear recent examples of mass human behaviour successfully modified and spoke of an unnerving graph widely featuring in water company business plans, colloquially known as the ‘jaws of death’.
One axis shows predicted water demand over the next decades (the line travelling upward as more people, homes and businesses appear over time). The other shows available water (the line travelling downward as the effects of climate change kick in). These lines significantly diverge around 20 to 25 years from now, creating said ‘jaws’ – the point at which, without serious action, we won’t have enough water for our needs.
The unnerving graph known in the industry as the ‘jaws of death’. Source: Thames Water.
By the time Sir James spoke at the Royal Society Conference in 2021, the National Framework for Water Resources had been implemented to identify England’s long-term water needs – which sectors will use the most, and the actions required to ensure resilient water supplies will be available. “What gets measured gets done,” said Sir James, who this year focused on the flatlining that has occurred since the progress of the 1990s, due to development and continued industrial pollution. Currently only 14% of our rivers meet the criteria for good ecological status.
As Benjamin Franklin said, ‘when the well is dry, we know the worth of water’: only when a resource starts to become scarce, and cost more, does fundamental change happen.