The video attached to this article examines a typical private water supply in West Yorkshire. It is indicative of what is happening throughout the UK. Global warming is having an adverse effect on many private water supplies throughout the Uk, especially spring supplies.
So-called spring supplies are very rare in the Uk; a common perception is that a “spring” is made up from “beautiful” tasting water that comes from deep underground. Although such supplies do exist, it takes a certain type of geology for water that comes from a groundwater supply to reach the surface. Even in these rare cases, the water will mix with surface water unless the source is properly protected.
Most spring supplies in the UK are actually best described as surface-derived sources, that is, the water probably never passes more than a few meters below the surface and it is this supply that is being affected by the general increase in temperature.
Surface-derived sources rely on rain to “soak” the upper layers of soil which then acts as a type of sponge, slowly releasing the water throughout the year. Heavy snow helps top up the supplies as it melts, saturating the soil.
As temperatures slowly increase and the amount of rain through the summer months drops, along with the lack of “snowmelt” during the winter, surface-derived sources are becoming stressed during the summer months. This means supplies that have provided ample supplies of water for generations are in some cases, drying up.
What are the options?
One of the most straightforward options would be to look at the existing source and establish whether the tank or parts of the distribution are in need of repair. Leaks can waste a lot of water. However, in my experience, this type of investigation rarely provides a long-term solution as leaks can appear at any time and it is not always possible to carry out preventative maintenance. In most cases, it is necessary to deal with catastrophes as and when they occur. This is not ideal, especially if the water is off for any prolonged period – three days being the maximum that most people could tolerate living in a house without water.
The challenge facing anyone who carries out work on a surface-derived source is to not make the situation worse. Moving a boulder or diverting an existing flow can lead to devasting results and anyone carrying out work would need an effective plan B should the supply diminish significantly due to their intervention. As a Managing Director of the company (Springhill) who could carry out such work, I am acutely aware that we could be accused of causing damage to a supply when in reality a drop off in supply was due to a lack of water due to the cumulative effect of global warming and not our workmanship. I would be extremely cautious to prevent a situation where a client could say, “it was fine until you touched it”.
The next best course of action is to look at increasing the amount of storage by adding tanks to the system. Traditionally, water tanks had to be positioned on the side of a hill as this provided the necessary “head” of pressure needed to reach the top floors of a house. Low-cost electric pumps are relatively new invention and were not around hundreds of years ago when these supplies were being created.
These days tanks are also made of plastic, which does not corrode and are designed to be rodent proof. A suitable storage tank for a 3-to-4-bedroom house would have a capacity of around 3 cubic metres (3,000 litres). Based on the national average water usage of around 180 litres per person per day, this is normally will provide in the region of 4 to 5 days storage for a family of 4. Cutting back on water use would of course increase the numbers of days storage.
Additional storage is one way of dealing with a low yielding source during a drought. However, this option is only viable if there is a suitable amount of space. The stored water would also need to be pumped around the property using an appropriate booster pump. This option will not however resolve the problem if the water has run dry completely. If this is the case, then the next option would be to have a borehole drilled.
The average cost of drilling a borehole in the North of England is in the region of £11,500 plus VAT to £16,000 plus VAT. The water would probably need treating which could cost an additional £5,000 depending on the water quality.
Boreholes are likely to provide a good yield if the local geology is made up of sandstone, or gritstone. Limestone areas may not provide a good supply of water.
If all the above options prove to be inappropriate, then the only remaining option would be to connect to the mains. However, the cost may prove to be prohibitively high, or, where pipes need to run for long distances may not be feasible. To find out whether your property can be connected to the mains, contact your local water utility and they will provide you with an assessment. This assessment may be chargeable.
Most spring supplies in the UK are best described as surface-derived sources. These types of supply are vulnerable to the effects of global warming. Supplies that have been sufficient for hundreds of years are starting to run low during the summer months, around July and August in a drought situation. Warming is likely to continue over the coming years and “stressed” supplies may start to run dry or low earlier each year. This situation will be made wore if we do not have periods of heavy snow during the winter months.
Improving the yield of an existing source is dependent on several factors. If the supply is running low because of leaks in the tank or pipework this can in some cases be remedied. However, if the cause of the problem is simply a lack of water, then maintenance may not improve the amount of water available.
Adding additional storage to the system can prove effective if the water continues to flow, even a trickle over a 24-hour period can be sufficient to fill tanks overnight.
A borehole may be necessary if there simply is not sufficient water. Connecting to the mains may also have to be considered, assuming that there is a mains water pipe close by and the water company is prepared to add your property to the system.
This article was written by Geoff Nemec MSc CEnv CWEM
Managing Director of Springhill Water