Naturewatch with Lynne Le Conte

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YOU can save on your water mater and help the environment - read on to find out more.

Lynne Le Conte, SKDC grounds maintenance co-ordinator and nature expert, says:

“I’ve been reading about ‘gre water’ on the Environment Agency website and was amazed how much information is available about this ‘untapped’ (excuse the pun) and readily available resource.

Anyone with a property on a water meter who wants to save money should visit the Environment Agency website.

And if you have a garden or patio pots, you can do your bit for recycling too. And why not take a tour on the Energy Saving Trust website? They have a water energy calculator and water saving tips. See what you could save.

So, to start with, what is grey water and how can we use it?

Grey water can be waste water from all sources within our properties other than toilets. The water from baths, showers and wash basins is less contaminated that that from the kitchen.

My neighbour also gave me a good tip - she keeps a two-litre water container in her bathroom and when she runs the hot tap collects the cold water that always precedes it and uses that to water houseplants or the pots on her patio.

It may seem extreme, but add up how many litres of useful water have been saved instead of going straight down the plug hole and it makes perfect sense.

Not to mention that the pennies saved by someone on a water meter soon add up, too.

Just adding a very simple diversion system to divert cooled, untreated bath water to irrigate the garden is another idea - not storing the water but using it immediately on non-edibles.

Problems may occur if the water is stored and it gets warm. This creates ideal conditions to incubate bacteria.

Remember that soaps contain nitrogen and phosphorus, so this will affect the amount of plant food/fertiliser required and one with lower ratios should be selected to maintain the correct balance.

Likewise, it’s worth remembering that grey water tends to be alkaline and collected rainwater acid. So get to know the conditions that your plants need to thrive and organise your garden/greenhouse accordingly.

Other systems typically used in the domestic environment collect grey water and store it before re-using it to flush the toilet while more advanced systems treat grey water that it is claimed can be used in washing machines and the garden. Systems for flushing the toilet can save around a third of daily household water demands and a trial by the Environment Agency showed a range of water savings from about five per cent to 36 per cent.

So the potential water savings from a specified, well maintained, correctly-installed and fully operational grey

water system are huge and could potentially save up to a third of the water used in a typical domestic property.

The knock-on effect of that would reduce the pressure on our water resources.

Of course we shouldn’t forget the humble water butt, used to collect and store rainwater to use on the garden, especially edible crops. Or top up the fish pond when we have times of drought.

Increase storage by connecting several butts together or, if room allows, by using one of the larger storage butts available.

Follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions and install butts in such a way that they cannot topple over. Water butts need no special treatment or mains back-up. And it may surprise you - depending on your roof size and its pitch - how much water can be collected this way.

Water butts can be fitted to every downpipe from your house, shed, garage or greenhouse. Lots of us have our greenhouses away from the house or a direct mains tap and a water butt in that location also saves having to drag the hosepipe or carrying watering cans, so can also save time too.

While the Environment Agency website is a great place to look for water-saving ideas, I also took the opportunity to speak to an officer at the office in Lincoln.

Here’s what Dominic Freestone, environment management team leader, had to say on the subject: “Making use of grey water is a win-win. It can help people to save money and helps the environment.

“For example, cold water which comes from the hot tap before it warms up and goes straight down the plughole goes to a sewage treatment works. Collecting it in a bottle and using it on the garden saves the energy it would take to treat it.

“Using grey water also means using less fresh water that has been treated for drinking – something that isn’t needed when using it to water plants.”

It should be noted there are more expensive options also discussed which would benefit large communal domestic or commercial developments where the economics of the systems may be better.

A lot of information is available from the Environment Agency website at www.environment-agency.gov.uk and by following the links.

If you need further information, you could call them on 03708 506 506 or see the Energy Saving Trust website at www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Water/