Water water everywhere

A recent report by the Institute of Civil Engineers has renewed a call for water metering in the UK as a measure to manage water consumption. Metering is used in France and I honestly thought it was used in the UK.

The institute also calls for something I’ve been banging the table about for a long time now. A change from run off drainage, where rainwater runs off roads and pavements into a man made sewerage system, to environmental paving which allows water to infiltrate to the ground, thus repleating the natural water table.

Will metering and other mechanical systems work, or would it be more sensible to educate people as to how they consume their water?

We lived in two houses in the UK where we had water meters and found it very successful, our bills were considerably cheaper, maybe because we were more aware of our consumption and like electricity, you don't abuse it if you want to be able to afford the bills.

Our neighbouring village council (in Suffolk) used to collect Cambridgeshire stories, so they were probably a very 'special' council. Channel Four certainly listed them as one of the most wasteful in England on the programme.

and you thought French admin was bad. Sounds like Cambridgeshire were positively excellent at it.

Oh yes, that reminds of when Cambridgeshire issued every house with one of those tall grey things with wheels and slots so that the truck could simply tip them in. Apart from a few being turned into Daleks and other such things by a few kids, all went very well until an 'expert' said we all ought to line them with plastic bags so that the contents were contained and the council did not have to clean out the bins (one parish council took the question to court and the county council were told their bins, their cleaning). Then we had a second bin for recycling, also lined but with a different colour bag. Apart from small people who could not reach properly (bear in mind we were just under five minutes from Newmarket and guess how many jockeys, their partners, stable lads and lasses, etc, are under 1.5m tall?). Then somebody else came up with the stunning idea that each household should take the sacks out of the containers and leave them on the pavement nearby because to many full sacks got stuck in the containers! So the size of the crews on the carts was doubled back to what it used to be. Our council, I was deputy chair at that time, joined up with others in writing to the county to make up its mind, perhaps just let us fill sacks and take the wheelie bins away. However a waste hygene consultant wrote something we all received telling us that that would be a bad idea. So all the councils involved organised a meeting with the dustmen to discuss it and agreed that the consultant had no idea, and they pointed out that so many sacks split because they were jammed that it made the object of the exercise pointless. A professional film maker filmed the meeting and sold it to Channel Four who showed it and before one could say Jack, let alone Robinson, a truck came round and collected all the wheelie bins. Thereafter we were issued with double thick sacks: black for normal waste, green for bio-degradables, blue for metals and yellow for plastics.

I wonder how much money was wasted, let alone time discussing the whole fiasco, before common sense won over?

Yep! Some good neighbours became so talented at bin stuffing, that a new lock was designed, some sort of gravity operated gadget which released the lid when the bin was turned upside down. Dumping in skips also increased in popularity, replacing "skip cruising" - as a relatively well-off neighbourhood, the practice used to be driving around in your car to see if there was anything useable.

I also heard that as all good neighbours do, quite a few were trying to stuff their own rubbish into their neighbours bins. Is that right?

In response to Nick's query re household waste - in the area in which I lived in Dublin, waste was charged by weight. Bar-code on black bin scanned, bin lifted, weighed, emptied. All households were provided with a green bin which took plastic, paper, etc. and was free. I believe since we left, a brown bin has also been available. As Henry and I were always environmentally conscious, we had no difficulty in switching to this system but some people objected and refused to pay. On our evening walks, we could see people stuffing small bags of rubbish into the waste bins outside shops! We recycled and we paid for our black bin, so I often had to cover a smile when selling a house and having to tell the client that the outstanding bill for rubbish collection (in one case €1,500) had to be cleared before they could complete the sale.

Water was charged via rates in Ireland for many years but rates were abolished by one government (talk about blatantly buying the electorate!) in 1996. In the current circumstances which pertain to Ireland, the new (ish) government is talking about re-introducing charges for water, by metering.

Following Liz's heroic efforts yesterday, she should undoubtedly reward herself with a bath! I prefer showers - which is just as well, as our current rental does not have a bath!

Nick - I could only dream of such an idea. I think I would need to add to the 'bastides' by building a fairly high tower for which I would not get permission anyway I suspect.

Andrew, our well is fed by a spring that end up in the little river about 400m in a straight line but by then 60m drop away. Neither have ever been knwo to dry up even in bad drought years, so I think the answer is no. We can run the pump for about four hours before the pressure goes down to making it only trickle (i.e. filling the inflatable pool for daughters) and then takes roughly an hour to refill and do it all over again. So the rest of it sounds like an exhorbitant as you are more or less saying. Nonetheless, I'd still like to recuperate some at least for a reserve.

Oh yes, catching up on Andrews's bit. All of our shower water, washing machine, dishwasher, water overspill from fosse and so on go through the bac degraisseur, which is an imported one from Switzerland where the laws on water recuperation are stricter and the bac MUST actually work unlike many French ones. My filter beds are made so that the pipes and all the sand, gravel, carbon modules and pebbles can come up every five years for replacement if necessary but thus far I reckon we can double that on the sampling shaft I installed to examine each layer precisely and very close to where the water comes out of the bac into the pipes where it is still impurest.

This is the big problem Brian, whilst water remains relatively cheap per m3, the installation costs of rain recuperation systems are way too high to warrant them financially. In the dry south you need a tank of 15,000 to 20,000 l to be autonomous, you'd need something smaller and so cheaper but does your well dry up in the summer - ours do from July/August onwards. If your's doesn't then the best bet is to keep using that. I guess you have the water pumped into a pressured reservoir, the pressure switch turning the pump back on as required. That's what we use for most of the year (up to 8 or 9 months if we're lucky). All rain water can simply be left to drain into the ground hence replenishing the water table from which you draw your water - no need for enormous holes to be dug to bury a 15,000 litre tank and all the related cost that goes with it! If you really want to cut down, go for a small tank to hold bath/shower/sink etc water that is then used to flush loos, water garden etc but that means having two plumbing systems...! depends how far you want to take it ;-)

I'm trying to imagine it Brian, and unfortunately not getting the whole picture, but would an artesian well type set up work with a tower structure starting at the lowest point? As I say I can't picture it so may be shooting off a useless suggestion.

We paid by readings like electricity so it was all so well organised it probably was AW.

I have all the 'ground work' and even after my bac degraisseur filtration beds have a small trickle that I deliberately made happen so that I can test the soil water quality but we are on a slope so that the bottom of my 16/18m well where the blackberry disappeared is at about the same level as the gutter outlets and then the pipes I installed drop another metre a least. I then have a distance of about 20m left to right on gutter pipes into field, fed to same place as filtration and then another probably 2m drop in height plus around (I guess) 18m outward until water could be collected. Unless I install a pump to return it (electricity bill instead) I am lost for ideas. Andrew and Nick any inspired suggestions (I have until next year when I can do that kind of work as well). It excludes a photovoltaic panel pump because they are a) very expensive and b) I am informed that when they breakdown (fairly frequently) almost nobody knows how to fix them.

yes the shower figures are very vague, so much obviously depends on the flow rate and the time spent under the shower. Still beats a bath hands down anyday but yes, let's leave Elizabeth to enjoy her's - there's enough rain in Normandy to allow her that luxury...!

Brian, talking about the mediterranean south, you're a truely oceanic climate in the Dordogne with reguilar rainfall through out the year and so rain reccuperation systems are good around you, they're limit here as we often get no rain in the summer months at all as does the med. Let's not forget that this was one of the wettest springs on record too ;-)

Nick, yes Toulouse is really limit as to the viability but a good ecological gesture. the best general systems are those that take dirty bath, sink, washing machine etc water and use it to flush the loo, water the garden etc but that's yet another investment but one that is more suitable to the south (read south east Brian ;-))

Actually it seems to be slightly more for a shower, 20 to 25 litres - just checked it out

I think the figures are around 60 litres of water for a bath and between 4 and 11 litres for a shower. But let's not deny Elizabeth her bit of luxury now and then.

We made big efforts recently and slashed the water bill, but as the boys are becoming teenagers and sprouting hairs and spots and other things, they are tending to spend more time in the bathroom. Consequently last year's consumption went up. So we will be having a little bathroom time management session with them.

Andrew - the new build we are doing in Toulouse will incorporate a rainwater recuperation system. I know it is Toulouse and the south, but every little helps. All households should do the same as the recuperated water can be used for a multitude of purposes.

Brian, I think there was one company in the UK that installed early as part of a pilot scheme to see if it would work - but I may be wrong.

And did I read a few years ago that in Ireland, you pay for household waste disposal by weight of material disposed?

Are you jesting, this year (thus) far we would have needed to have our field turned into a reservoir, not much rain in the south eh! :)

Water meters should be standard everywhere, as should rainwater recuperation systems on new builds in northern france/northern europe (not really worth it in most of the south) as they are in Belgium (space allowing of course! Haven't had a bath in years - give me a good shower any day ;-)

I had one in that struck me as ancient then in the house I bought in 1985 or perhaps Anglia Water were at it early. The one we have here is in the middle of a patch of around two metre high nettles and it takes a macheté to beat a track through the four or so metres to the path. Bright bit of installation!