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Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink

Julia Messenger Julia Messenger 21 Mar 2014

Of all the water on the earth only 3% is fresh water and this is distributed unevenly over the world – often places with the highest water demand for manufacturing have the least water available. I attended a very interesting seminar regarding the future resilience of water at Ecobuild. With the recent UK floods you may be forgiven for thinking that water scarcity isn’t really a big issue. But this is a global challenge and consumer decisions we make in the UK have a big impact on water use in other countries. For example, to make a single plain cotton t-shirt requires 2,700 litres of water – enough water for one person to drink for 900 days!

It is World Water Day this Saturday which aims to raise awareness of the inter-linkages between water and energy. However this is an opportunity for all organisations to consider water usage, both directly and indirectly. 

The speakers at ecobuild called for an increase in water footprinting – similar to carbon footprinting but you measure the total amount of water which is needed to create the product/project. At present there is limited information about construction materials with more focus on agricultural processes. However, monitoring the water used to create construction materials will become increasingly important, as well as monitoring the water used on construction sites- which we already do here at BAM.

The Network Rail project was 58% below the construction water usage target. Also the rainwater harvesting incorporated into the building reduces potable water consumption by 33%.

This, combined with water conservation design such as rainwater harvesting like that incorporated into our Chilton Trinity Technology College project, will contribute to a reduction in the water demand of the built environment. This project also incorporated a sustainable urban drainage system (SUDS) to manage water and reduce the risk of flooding. 

Chilton Trinity College incorporates rainwater harvesting and SUDS.

The water scarcity challenge isn’t viewed as highly as other sustainability issues because it is a relatively cheap resource. This, combined with the fact that 70% of all the water used globally is dedicated to agriculture, may make you think that improving water management in construction and building operations should not be set as a priority, as our contribution is a small drop in the ocean. But as the population grows and urbanisation increases, water demand (and management) will also intensify, how we manage our water in the built environment will become vital. Water footprinting and design for water reuse are just some of the ways we can begin to tackle the water scarcity challenge, but more focus will be needed on water management in the future. 

Julia Messenger is a Sustainability Advisor at BAM.



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