Water Management Warning to Business – Drought Now Official


This may seem “off topic” as regards construction health & safety, but as the British Safety Council are this month highlighting, DEFRA have announced that the South East of England is now officially a drought zone: and following two dry winters this may be a continuing issue to be faced by industry as well as individual consumers. The environmental pressure will increase on businesses to reduce their water consumption and the construction sector will by no means be exempt: just in terms of concrete production it is a major water user.

How will it affect me?

The questions being posed by BSC are: do you have a Water Management System in your business? Do you even know what your Water Footprint is?

Be sure that clients will increasingly be putting pressure on their building contractors to demonstrate not only their safety credentials but also in tandem they will in their tender documents be wanting to quiz  contractors’ environmental record, especially in regard to water consumption. Attention is being focused on the ‘embedded water’ present in even apparently benign items like a beef steak or a cotton t-shirt. Buildings carry an extremely high amount of ‘virtual water’ in their construction and refurbishment, from cement to bricks, from paint to pressure-jetting.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman warns that drought may in future be the norm. Remember what the summer of 1976 did to building foundations, as clay subsoil in particular dried out and caused immense damage.

So what to do? Well businesses are being urged to:

  • Tackle water loss
  • Use water wisely
  • Fix leaking taps, turn off water when not needed
  • Monitor usage
  • Insulate pipes against frost
  • Re-use process water
  • Use water-minimising controls

Examples of controls that can be used are push taps, flow regulators and low-flush toilets. These can be built into new and refurbished building specifications.

Other technologies that are recommended as having excellent paybacks include pressure reduction, cooling tower heat load reduction and closed-loop recycling.

What’s in it for you?

The business case can be strong, as well as the environmental desire to do the right thing. Enhanced Capital Allowances (ECAs) are now available from Government for some water-efficient investments in products that are on their approved Water Technology List. These ECAs are tax breaks that give firms a 100% first year relief on their investment.

Building firms should start by reviewing their own offices, because best practice starts at home. There as well as on the sites they operate they can look at existing solutions such as waste water recovery. Grey water can be treated using bacteriological treatment, UV, and carbon filtration to produce water suitable for re-use in toilets and irrigation, or just to reduce the building’s impact on the sewage system. Rather than just blindly using the mains drains, triple-chamber bio-digesters can be used. In specific cases it is possible to build reed beds into the landscaping scheme. The cost of these systems has so far restricted them to commercial and larger residential building developments but the costs per unit are falling. The ability to implement such schemes starts with the determination to specify a secondary pipework system for grey water at the outset (even as a future-proofing measure) because retro-fitting is rarely cost-effective or desirable.

Clean water harvesting is another possibility, and the recovery of roof water is already mandatory in new schemes in other countries such as Germany. Here again it requires prior planning as part of the design.

For advice on all aspects of construction health and safety as well as on specific efficiency and water-saving measures, contact your local consultant from McCormack Benson Health & Safety.