This tends to be something of a regional issue but certainly in the South East, it is becoming a major concern with planning permissionthe legal basis for being allowed to do some form of development such as building a house. (not to be confused with Building RegulationsThese are the legal regulations which govern how a house is constructed. (not to be confused with Planning Permission which is about whether you are allowed to build the house at all or what it might look like) see Building Regulations) which is all about whether the building is properly constructed). see more on Planning Permission being refused in some areas due to a lack of water. A huge nonsense is the amount of water which is purified to drinking quality standard and then used to flush toilets. The same is true for washing cars or watering the garden. It’s worth remembering that if you have a water meter your sewage bills are usually assessed on the amount of water you buy and therefore harvesting rainwater provides a double saving.
The Waterwise web site covers issues about how much water we use and where savings are to be made.
Depending on how important you feel the subject to be, there are several approaches:
- An easy option is to install tanks to harvest and store rainwater for garden irrigation
- Ditto but use the rainwater for everything except where wholesome waterin part G of the Approved DocumentsThese are a part of the Building Regulations which ensure, if you follow them, that your plans will be automatically approved. The full set of the documents is available here, this basically means water fit to drink (previously called potable water) is required. (backed up by mains). The UK Rainwater Harvesting Association has been formed recently to promote this area. You are very unlikely to be able to collect enough water for all your needs but toilet flushing and washing machines are good uses which need a minimum of water treatment.
- Install a system for reusing bath and shower water for toilet flushing such as the Ecoplay product. More products on the Waterwise web site.
- Install low flush toilets such as the Swedish Ifo and use water saving cisterns and appliances
- Use composting toilets to save 30% of all the water
Note that water storage tanks and cisterns buried below ground have the potential problem of lifting (effectively floating) up out of the ground if the condition arises that they are empty (and therefore light in weight) and the surrounding water table is high. They may need weighting down. Check the suppliers literature
recycling grey water
Water Works UK Ltd have developed their green rooftop ‘Grow’ technology for recycling grey water into green water (water suitable for flushing toilets, garden watering, car washing etc.)
Reed bed water purification systems are normally used when a house is not connected to the main sewerage system and water effluent needs cleaning up before it soaks into the ground or enters a watercourse. This is quite common for the effluent from septic tanks, package treatment plants or secondary treatment systems.The reed bed is usually an area of medium such as gravel contained in a waterproof membrane. As the effluent seeps through the medium, bacteria in the soil break down the contaminants in the water (such as soaps, detergents carbohydrates etc.) and they bio-degrade leaving a much improved effluent. There are various configurations of reed beds such as vertical flow, horizontal flow, and combinations of the two which may be in sequence. It is usually necessary to obtain expert advice on the design of reed beds. Short courses are sometimes run by CATCentre for Alternative Technology. see CAT’s website
Much development of constructed wetlands has been pioneered in Germany. This shows a scheme of about 100 flats in Kreutzberg, Berlin, built around a beautiful reed bed treatment system for grey water. The cleaned-up water is then used for flushing toilets.
A particularly interesting use of reed beds , from the ecological point of view, is in conjunction with composting toilets . If the human waste is broken down in a composting toilet then the reed bed only has to handle the grey waste water such as the water from baths sinks showers etc. so the design can be simpler. With this configuration, all the waste products can be considered as nutrients and fertilizers which get returned to the local land rather than being dumped into rivers after they have gone through the local sewage plant. Although sewage treatment plants have been greatly improved over the last decade or so (with the consequent improvement of river water quality) there is still a considerable degree of contamination , especially when localised flooding occurs.
The Building Regulations, part P now stipulates that with new houses, calculations are provided to the BCBBuilding Control Body- either the local authority building inspectors or an approved inspector. (see Building Regulations) showing how much water the houses is expected to use and it gives limits for various house types. The calculator is here
There are various initiatives afoot to implement further water saving standards :
The AECBthe Sustainable Building Association have gone for an approach which can basically be implemented by being careful about the way normal plumbing and water outlets are designed. It doesn’t require any different technology and is aimed at achieving what people consider acceptable. It specifies the maximum volumes and flow rates for baths, showers, sinks etc and limits the dead legs allowed on the pipework. It comes as the Carbonlite Water Standard with two levels – Good Practice and Best Practice.
The Code for Sustainable Homes goes a good way further than the AECB in the way that it covers the collection of rainwater and recycling of grey water. It sets certain limits on things like hot tubs and swimming pools which use a lot of water and it covers white goods. The use of water for watering gardens is taken into consideration. There is a water calculator which is part of the assessment procedure.
water saving and SUDs
It has been described as ‘a marriage made in heaven’. Carried out correctly, saving water can work very well with SUDsSustainable urban drainage systems. Various ways of holding back rain water and allowing it to percolate into the ground instead of taking it to a drain and sewer. This helps prevent flash flooding. See Surface rainwater and SUDS. SUDs can be implemented using attenuation tanks which hold back storm water and allow it be released slowly. The same tanks can store rain water for the purpose of toilet flushing, washing machines, car washing and garden watering (all uses where wholesome water is not required). There are lots of companies now offering such tanks along with size calculations. See the UK Rainwater Harvesting Association Briefing Paper.