British people need to be “less squeamish” about drinking water derived from sewage, the boss of the Environment Agency has said.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Sir James Bevan outlined measures the government, water companies and ordinary people should be taking to avoid severe droughts.
He said: “Part of the solution will be to reprocess the water that results from sewage treatment and turn it back into drinking water – perfectly safe and healthy, but not something many people fancy.”
Bevan admitted the move would be “unpopular” and reactions on social media have been mixed but he said there was a need to “change how we think about water”.
“We need to remember where it comes from: when we turn on the tap, what comes out started in a river, lake or aquifer. The more we take, the more we drain those sources and put stress on nature and wildlife.”
It comes after a drought was declared in large portions of England. On Friday, Yorkshire Water joined five water companies across the south of England and Wales to enforce a hosepipe ban, due to low water supplies in the region’s reservoirs and rivers.
Data from the UK Center of Ecology and Hydrology shows that most of south and east England have very dry conditions underground, caused by heatwaves and a lack of rainfall.
Farmers have warned the dry soil could affect key crops, such as potatoes, with the price of chips expected to rise next year, the Grocer magazine reported.
Bevan, who has been chief executive of the Environment Agency since 2015, called on the government to “show political will” to make changes and also called on members of the public to do their bit to help reduce water waste.
“We need to treat water as a precious resource, not a free good. We will have to be more selective about what we use drinking water for. It makes no sense to use it to clean the car or water the lawn.
“Each of us can be part of the solution, starting now. Small things make a big difference. Take showers, not baths. Cram the dishwasher or washing machine and only run it when it’s full. Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth. Fix leaks: many are in our own homes, not water company pipes. Get a water meter: your company will install one free. Outside the house, get a water butt: plants prefer rainwater. Use a watering can, not a hose, and don’t water the grass – it doesn’t need it.
“Use water wisely” is not a slogan. It’s a guide for how to survive. Let’s follow it,” he added.