Matt and Ben were sitting around the dinner table tonight having a very adult conversation about water here versus water in England. They made some very incisive and thought-provoking observations which are definitely worth summarising.
We can’t drink the water that comes from the tap here – it’s not potable, but it really is no hardship at all and you quickly get used to it. Drinking water is delivered in 5-gallon plastic bottles – the sort that is put upside-down into water coolers in every office across the UK. Empty bottles can be exchanged for full ones in one of a hundred places in every street, or alternatively there is a tanker which tours the streets and will refill the bottles you already have.
We don’t expect anything else that we drink to come out of a tap so what is so special about water? Everything else that we drink we either have delivered or go the shop to buy. In the UK, we are very happy to pay for bottled water in bars and cafes and often keep a bottle of Evian or Tesco’s sparkling table water in the fridge. So around our dinner table tonight we got talking about why, in England, we think it is important to have drinking water on tap.
We don’t think it’s a cost thing. Drinking water here is very cheap to buy; 5 gallons delivered to your door costs about 60p and between the 6 of us we drink about 10-12 gallons a week – s0 a grand total of about £1.50 a week.
We don’t think it’s a taste thing. The bottled water is perfectly nice to drink. We decant it into smaller bottles and keep it in the fridge – so cold drinking water is always available.
We don’t think it’s a quality thing either. The mains water that is connected to the house is perfectly OK for all other household purposes (washing clothes, bathing, flushing the loo, cooking, brushing teeth and even for making hot drinks if you let it boil for a couple of minutes).
The main reasons we can think of to explain why we don’t have drinking water on tap here is because a) it would be fa too expensive to install/upgrade the infrastructure; and b) it’s regarded as a wholly unnecessary and wasteful luxury – why on earth would you pay to shower in water of a quality that you could drink?
Yet potable tap water is what we have become used to in the UK. It’s not a luxury, or even a ‘nice to have’. It’s just something we don’t even think about. If freshly squeezed orange juice or lemonade came down the pipes every time we flushed the loo, watered the garden or put the washing machine on we would think it an extraordinary waste – and yet we watch gallons and gallons of it disappear down the drain every day without giving it a second thought.
We’ll never see the day when the clocks will be rolled back to pre-Victorian times when we didn’t have drinking water in our homes. (A quick bit of Googling indicates that the first piped-to-home drinking water was available in the early 19th century). It’s part of our ‘advanced’ western culture that water is drinkable from the taps, and the infrastructure is all in place (albeit creaking badly – at least in southern England). However, as the world turns its attention ever increasingly to saving money and saving the planet, it’s got to be a an idea worth thinking about.
So, a question. How much would you be you willing to pay for the convenience of drinking water on tap? Or to put it another way, by how much would your annual water bill have to be reduced before you would allow the quality of water piped into your home to fall below a standard acceptable for drinking? £50 per year? £100? £1000?
According to Wikipedia, 0nly forty-six percent of people in Africa have safe drinking water (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drinking_water). Just imagine if the money and resources saved could be somehow transferred to the barren plains of Africa where children die every day of dehydration, would you give it up then?
Having lived here for almost 5 months we don’t even give a second thought to not drinking the tap water so if it were an option in England that saved us a few pounds and potentially conserved the planet a little for our grand-kids we would sign up immediately. Would you? Give it some thought next time you flush 40 glasses of drinking water away when you go to the loo or watch about 300 glasses go down the drain when you empty the bath.
Please credit Matthew and Ben with these thought provoking ideas. And if we’re missing the point (be it economic, political, social or technological) as to why it’s necessary to have potable mains water, we’d love to hear why – please write us a comment.