Historically, Londoners obtained their water from the River Thames which runs through the centre of our city. Today, we still receive most of our water from either the Thames or the River Lea which flows from the Chilterns down into north-east and East London. The rest of our water supply comes from underground sources.
Records show that Londoners began to build a water system in as early as 1247 when they began work on the Great Conduit, which was an underground lead pipe that ran from the Tyburn stream (from South Hampstead to the Thames around the Vauxhall Bridge area) to Cheapside in the City. But it was during the Victorian era that the need for improved facilities really grew and several new water companies were formed to allow for this.
London as we know it still uses many of the original cast iron water mains pipes that were added to the water system in the 19th Century. Around 44% of the water mains in London consists of these pipes which are over 100 years old. These are older than water mains pipes in much of the UK. If the Victorians of London knew this, they would be proud of themselves for creating such a hardy system. However, unfortunately, times and demand are changing and as our population grows alongside the effects of climate change, these mains are being put under great strain. Due to their age, these cast iron pipes are more likely to burst or crack, so Thames Water are slowly replacing these pipes with stronger plastic ones. You can imagine what a task this is and it can be very frustrating for Londoners when they have their water supply cut off for 4 hours or more at a time whilst the road outside their house or workplace is dug up for this purpose. But the truth is that it needs to be done and so far they’ve replaced 1300 miles of pipe. Thames Water say that on average they’re saving 1 million litres of water per day from each area that they work on in the capital.
This is very important as we’re heading into a drought. For 19 out of the last 24 months we’ve had record low volumes of rain fall in the capital. Since records began in 1884, only 1892/3 and 1920/1 have seen less rainfall. In addition to this, we as Londoners are taking more water out of the environment than it can sustain.
Here are 10 ways that we can all reduce the amount of water we use:
- Use your washing machine and dishwasher only when they’re full
- Turn off the taps when you’re brushing your teeth and soaping your hands, using only water at the beginning and end of each of these activities.
- Take a shower rather than a bath and try and shorten your showertime by 1-2 minutes
- Use a pan filled with water to wash fruit and veg, then use the water from this pan to water your houseplants
- Use a water-efficient showerhead, they’re inexpensive and easy to fit
- Water your plants only when it’s necessary. It’s a little known fact that more plants die from over-watering than from under-watering them.
- Bathe your young children together
- Wash your face in the shower, rather than separately at the sink
- When staying in a hotel, try and reuse your towels – you’ll often find a notice in your bathroom giving you information on how to do this
- Turn off the water when shaving