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Why don’t we value water?

While earth is the Blue Planet, only 3% of earth’s water is freshwater, and less than 1% is usable by humans and other life forms.

Treating water, abstracted it from rivers, reservoirs or below ground, and then delivering it to our homes, requires huge infrastructure and energy. This makes the process carbon intensive.

If we also include emissions from heating water for our homes, offices and factories, our water use accounts for 6% of all carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the UK.

It’s definitely time we stopped taking water for granted.

The world consumes 100 billion tonnes of materials per year
Total UK water supply is forecast to decrease by 7% by 2045 as a result of climate change & limits to sustainable abstraction.
Less than 9 percent of the global economy is circular
UN Global Goal 6 focuses on clean water and sanitation.
Infrastructure & housing have the largest resource footprint of 38.8 billion tonnes per year
The UK needs an extra 4,000 megalitres of water a day to assure long-term supply.

Source: Water UK & National Infrastructure Assessment, National Infrastructure Commission.

Engineering a net zero world

We can all do our bit to reduce the carbon footprint of our water by valuing it more and not wasting it. But civil engineers can do even more.

They can develop new strategies to tackle leakage from ageing underground pipes, collaborate on innovative new water treatment processes and make water infrastructure smarter and more efficient.

The work that engineers are doing to decarbonise electricity will make the energy used for these water processes more sustainable. They are even helping to return energy to the grid by capturing biomethane from wastewater treatment and using it to our power homes.

Through their work in the water sector, civil engineers are also helping to clean up the environment by stopping sewage spilling from sewers into rivers. They are also working with nature to restore previous habitats to improve biodiversity and helps us manage our water resources.

Ask an engineer

“When water flows so readily from our taps, it’s easy to forget there are places in the world where people spend many hours per day collecting water from remote locations.

In the UK, it often takes a disruption in service to help us realise how crucial water is for every single daily activity, from brushing our teeth to cooking dinner.

But I’m sure many people would value water more if they understood the complexities of the taking raw water and turning it into drinking water and distributing it through thousands of miles of underground pipe systems.

As civil engineers, it’s our responsibility for finding the best value solutions for managing water, including reducing any environment and climate impacts of the assets that we design.”

Matt Kuhn

Project case study

Deephams Sewage Treatment Work major upgrade project

This state-of-the-art sewage treatment works at Edmonton in North London is improving the final effluent quality discharged to the River Lee, while increasing the capacity to manage future population rises and reduce odour emissions.