“In a paper for the thinktank Policy Exchange in 2011, Dr Simon Less, the former director of the water regulator, Ofwat, cited the Environment Agency as reckoning that households in England and Wales collectively are already using between 1.1bn and 3.3bn litres a day more than our water bodies can deliver without being damaged. Defra says it hopes that installing meters will cut consumption by 215m litres a day, and that reducing leaks will save a further 158m litres, ie a total daily saving of 373m litres. Even on the lowest estimate, that seems to fall short by 727m litres. One million litres provides enough water for some 7,000 households. It does not matter how often you check the maths, the implication is that we would have enough water if 5m households would stop using it. And if you take the higher estimate – a shortfall of 3.3bn litres – we would need 20.5m households to stop.
“The risk here is not that millions of people in Britain are suddenly going to die of thirst. It is that after all those years in which humans settled by rivers and thrived, we are now locked in conflict with our natural surroundings. Either the humans or the rivers have to suffer. At the moment, it is the rivers, although in the longer term a sick river will produce less water, so the humans will end up in trouble as well. In his Policy Exchange paper, Less reported that a third of our river catchments are already classed as “over abstracted”, that is, their health is being damaged by the amount of water being taken out of them.”