The first water-saving measures I can recall started around the time of the hot summer of 1976. There might well have been some before that, but if so, I don’t remember them. The long heatwave brought with it unfamiliar words to us Britons, like ‘drought.’ There were pictures of empty reservoirs on the news, and desperate measures were employed.
Hosepipe bans were brought in by the authorities in some areas. Slogans urged us to ‘bathe with a friend’, or to use showers instead of running a bath. TV programmes showed us how to put a brick into the toilet cistern, so as to use less water with each flush. Car washes were either closed, or forced to have restricted opening hours. We had dry gardens, dirty cars, and weak toilet flushes. Then it rained that September, and it all seemed to be forgotten for a while. A long while.
Next came the great Climate Change debate. The country would be like a desert soon, we were reliably informed, unless we all did something radical to conserve water. Public fountains were switched off, and new toilet cisterns supplied with two-stage flushes, to allow the option of saving water. Every summer, as soon as it was warm enough to shed a jumper, edgy water companies introduced hosepipe bans at the drop of a hat. Yet when it did rain, as it often did, little seemed to be done to save this precious fluid. New reservoirs were few and far between, mains water pipes leaked as much as they supplied, and millions of gallons were left to flow along the streets, off the fields, and down the hills.
I began to wonder why the water companies were not erecting vast containers to hold these deluges. Instead, they started to install water meters into all new houses. This proved more to be profitable than actually saving the water in the first place, as it fell free from the sky. We no longer enjoyed access to water and sewage at a flat rate, and had to start worrying about excess charges for using too much. As car owners became concerned about the extra water to wash their cars, numerous cheap hand-wash companies set up all over the place, using everything from abandoned petrol stations, to supermarket car parks. Who was paying for all the water that they used? I wondered.
Sales of water butts reached new heights, as dedicated gardeners feared for their plants and lawns. Other water-saving products arrived on a monthly basis; from ‘seeping’ hose-based watering systems, to inflatable bags that could be placed in toilets. Water was a hot topic, and as soon as summer loomed, panic would set in. Of course, wealthy people remained unconcerned. They used as much as they needed, and paid the charges with impunity. In poorer households, people did actually bathe together, and washed their clothes less too. Hard to believe, I know. I even knew some comfortably-off people who only flushed their toilet ‘when necessary’ and asked visitors to do the same.
So, did all these measures save water? It would appear that the answer to that is ‘No’. When we bought this house, in the summer of 2011, we received a note from the water company. They advised us that charges were to increase soon, and that if the weather remained warm, a hosepipe ban would follow. They were going to increase the charges for the water we would not be allowed to use. We used the water butt, later buying a new one with a stand and a tap, to make life easier. But we needn’t have worried, as it soon started to rain. Then it rained a lot more. There was no update on the hosepipe ban, and there hasn’t been one since. Despite almost daily precipitation for the last four years, the water charges keep creeping up. They now need the increase to replace ‘old pipes’, apparently. The Climate Change soothsayers have now decided that the rain is what we can expect from all that Global Warming. What happened to those ‘English Deserts’ then? I’m confused.
We no longer have to use the hose on the lawn. In fact, we never have had to. The water butt has to be emptied to stop it flooding the patio, and the water poured into ground that is already sodden by constant rain. I don’t even bother to wash the car anymore, as rain and mud will spoil it within a day anyway. And there has been no mention of those hosepipe bans at all.