A surprise from a zoom I attended last week was that many people are unaware that we have a real water crisis here in Horsham District, the first ever in the UK on this scale. The huge water shortfall means that all building work is now on hold while solutions are sought.
Southern Water provide drinking water for over a million properties, and remove and recycle the waste water of almost five million people. Quite a task!
Although we have 205 reservoirs, this provides only 7% of our water. The majority comes from underground aquifers, with around 25% being taken from rivers.
The cost of this service from 2020-2025 is around £1,000 per property, with improvements ranging from digitisation, artificial intelligence and machine learning to re-vamping the 3,500 pumping stations and 40,000 kilometres of sewers. Over a thousand options are being modelled including banning non-essential water use and building a desalination plant at Shoreham.
In the huge city of Sao Paulo in Brazil, water is expected to run out in the next few years, so the habit is to wipe off all debris from dinner plates so only a tiny amount of washing-up water is needed. It is the fats, oils and grease which (along with flushed baby wipes) are the cause of UK sewers flooding.
One zoom participant had lived in Bermuda for a while, where houses are built with cascading roofs designed to collect rainwater into domestic tanks. Maybe one day we will be able to flush loos with our recycled water rather than with drinking water as at present?
One of the main ways of keeping the cost to residents down is working with farmers to reduce the pollution caused by chemical nitrates and phosphates. This would also improve soil quality, food quality, biodiversity, while increasing pollinators and the resilience of the environment to cope with flood and drought.
Southern Water are holding a summer of consultations, and this was a lively, interactive engaging process with excellent facilitators running breakout sessions, compiling comments and suggestions and adding them to existing documents; asking, checking, recording, sharing.
Using slido.com participants were able to respond in seconds to vote on options or rank priorities. It was a superb example of using technology to create a flowing, meaningful consultation process which was certainly very easy from participants’ points of view!
Sean Ashworth of Southern Water said, “The environment needs water as much as we do”, and we certainly need to be prepared to share it with nature because we can’t live without it as our very own Horsham poet Shelley pointed out 200 years ago in his poem The Cloud!
Southern Water welcome your opinions and their website has advice and help for those who are struggling.
By Morag Warrack