World Plumbing Day: what it means to us


Michael Jones, Associate Director

It's time for reality to sink in

Celebrated internationally, World Plumbing Day raises awareness of the role plumbing plays in promoting and maintaining health.

The word ‘plumber’ is derived from the Latin for ‘lead worker’ as plumbing infrastructure was originally constructed from stone or lead-lined channels.

In the UK, we still occasionally come across lead in our plumbing systems, in the form of lead pipes or lead-based solder. Where discovered, these are replaced with modern materials.

We are often asked why plumbing design engineers are referred to as public health engineers in the UK. This goes back to Victorian times when, due to infant mortality and waterborne diseases, the age of mortality was 16 years old. During a golden age of plumbing engineering in the late 19th century, innovators such as John Snow and Joseph Bazalgette improved understanding, developed infrastructure and generally raised the quality of sanitary systems, which doubled of the age of mortality. Medical journal The Lancet voted sanitation as the medical discovery of the Millennium in 2000, and sanitation is still regarded as one of the core requirements for good public health.

World Plumbing Day recognises that many developing countries are struggling to provide sanitation, and that 3.5 billion people are without safely managed sanitation. This largely relates to challenges concerning funding, availability of water resources, and climate change.

The impact of providing sanitation can be significant to a village, improving the health of all and enhancing agriculture as well as the community’s ability to support itself.

Charities such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dig Deep and Water Aid are focused on providing more affordable and accessible sanitation for all.

As a company, Tetra Tech is tackling water challenges internationally, including preservation of water resources, remediation of existing water resources, reduction in water consumption, recycling and re-use. These require an integrated approach to water resources, ‘from drop to drain’. Tetra Tech has experience that spans various continents and climate zones, from dry and tropical through to polar, as well as catchment management, infrastructure and point of use, and the High Performance Building Group Plumbing Forum meets regularly to share resources and discuss issues.

In the UK, we are facing particular challenges in the south-east of the country, with Thames Water anticipating an 863 million litre/day shortfall in available clean water over the next 80 years. Areas such as Cambridge are reporting the drying up of chalk streams due to over abstraction.

In 2024, the introduction of planning requirements relating to water neutrality (similar to the US net zero water initiative) will set the most demanding targets for the reduction of water consumption experienced within the UK, with a required 36% reduction below the Building Regulations Part G. In order to deliver this, it is essential that we pull together as a firm to deliver an integrated water resource plan. We are ready for the task and working with clients and their teams to meet these needs.

We would actively encourage built environment professionals with thoughts and ideas that may help us achieve our goals to engage with one of their plumbing/public health engineers and discuss.

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