England faces ‘jaws of death’ in water crisis

Water, water everywhere: Cutting usage by 40 litres a day would be easy for most people.

Today is World Water Day. The head of England’s Environment Agency says we are set to run out of water in 25 years. Wasting it must become as wrong “as blowing smoke in the face of a baby”.

Blowing smoke at a baby and throwing plastic bags into the sea: two things that are generally seen as unacceptable. Now, James Bevan wants to add another to the list: wasting water.

Bevan is the chief executive of England’s Environment Agency. This week he warned that the country “will not have enough water” in just 25 years.

He blamed climate change and population growth for the looming crisis. As summers get hotter, there will be less water in rivers and lakes. Meanwhile, the UK’s population will rise. Eventually, there will not be enough water to meet the demand.

“We all need to use less water and use it more efficiently,” Bevan said. The average person uses around 140 litres of water per day — he wants this cut to 100.

His tips included turning off the tap as you brush your teeth; taking short showers; and not watering the lawn.

Last year, Cape Town managed to avoid becoming the first city in the world to run out of water.

After three years of drought, South Africa’s government warned that “Day Zero” (the day the city’s water supplies would go dry) was approaching.

But residents quickly adapted. They used just 50 litres a day. Dirty cars and brown lawns became a source of pride. The crisis was averted.

“We’ll never, ever, ever take water for granted again,” said one resident.

Troubled waters

What is the best way to change behaviour? Cape Town is proof that stark warnings and peer pressure can be very effective. Can you imagine a day when taking a long shower is considered as wrong as blowing smoke at babies?

Or do governments need to get involved? Cape Town also fined the households that were using too much water, or cut off their supply altogether. Could the British government start rationing water, as they did with food during the Second World War?

You Decide

  1. Will you start using less water after reading this article?


  1. Look at the statistics about average household water use in the graphic at the top of this article. What percentage of the total water consumption is used in each area? (For example — what percentage of water is used in the bathroom, and so on?)

Some People Say...

“No water, no life. No blue, no green. No ocean, no us.”

Sylvia Earle

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
A third of the water in England and Wales comes from underground. The rest comes from lakes, rivers and reservoirs. It is then cleaned and piped to your house. Wastewater is cleaned and recycled or returned to rivers and the sea.
What do we not know?
What will happen as climate change gets worse. Some have predicted a rise in “water wars” in areas where water is most scarce.

Word Watch

Environment Agency
The government body in charge of protecting England’s environment. (Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all look after their own environmental issues.)
Population growth
The UK’s population is currently 67 million. It is expected to reach 73 million by 2041.
Cape Town
In October 2017, the South African government warned that Day Zero was coming the following March. However, in December, Cape Town relaxed the restrictions on water use, describing 2019 as a “recovery year”.

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