FEATURE: The journey your water really takes to your taps
Have you ever wondered why a cup of tea tastes so different when you visit a friend's house?
Well wonder no longer.
“It’s all to do with where your water comes from,” smiles Andrew Walker - and as the catchment strategy manager for Yorkshire Water he would know.
“Upland water is soft, with low alkilinity, meaning it tends to foam easier, making it ideal for bubbles baths and washing hair.
“It tastes completely different to harder water, that contains more calcium and is much tougher on kitchen appliances, like your washing machine and dishwasher. People get used to the water they’ve grown up with and when they move house, it can be a real shock.
“People who go down south always comment that our water up here in the north tastes, and even smells, so much better. From a health point of view though, it’s all exactly the same.”
It’s an interesting journey that few of us give too much thought to, how exactly the water we drink ends up in our taps. Yorkshire Water provides around 4.7 million people in the north with drinking water every single day.
“45 per cent of that water comes from reservoirs,” explains Andrew.
“About a third comes from rivers and the rest is from groundwater sources, and each of these water types has a different issue that we need to address before we can let the public drink it.
“To begin with, all upland water looks like coke when we first get it, and we have to use a chemical process to remove that colour. This involves adding coagulants, that act a bit like a wallpaper paste, to the water to absord the minute particles of colour or sediment and form them into bigger lumps, so we can filter them out.
“With the water from the river, our main issue is agricultural pesticides, so we work closely with the National Farmers Union, landowners and people that advise farmers on what they should be using to protect our water.
“For our groundwater we sometimes need to remove excess nitrate and, in the main, this has come from previous agricultural production, which takes a long time to work its way through the soil. All the water is then disinfected with chlorine before it heads down the distribution system and into our customers taps.”
But the road to clean water isn’t one without bumps and Yorkshire Water have dedicated serious money in recent years to preserving and restoring vital Yorkshire peatland, in order to ensure the future of our water quality.
“We recently undertook a multi-million pound project to restore one of the world’s most prestigious habitats - Blanket Bog in the Pennines.
“It was supposed to be a wet landscape, but when we took the restoration project on, decades of drainage for grazing and grouse farming had left it dry. The bogs that knit the Pennines together and filter the rain had gone. The peat had dried out and eroded and was washing down into the reservoirs. We went in and started fertilising, planting, putting back vegetation, moss and peat and creating dams.
“The project cost us millions, but treating the tainted water had been costing us tens of millions, so it was a worthwhile investment.”
The company also recently had 5,000 bags of heather mown off Keighley Moor, to help improve the quality of water flowing from the nearby lands into the reservoir.
Andrew adds: “We believe peatland with high biodiversity and good land management practices will deliver a diverse and complex community of plants, that will protect and build the peat for future generations and provide a more natural way of filtering and cleaning the water before it gets into our reservoirs. This means we can ensure customers receive water that is of the highest quality.
“Another reason to protect peatland is that it is a major storage of carbon in the world. Damage to peat, causes it to release its stored carbon into the atmosphere contributing greatly to greenhouse gas emissions.”
Over the last ten years, Yorkshire Water has worked with partners to restore up to 3,250 hectares of degraded peat in the region. Andrew says there is still much more to be done in ensuring policies and best practices will continue to protect and preserve our lands, but that Yorkshire Water are leading the charge.
“In the last three years, we’re broken down a lot of barriers and helped shaped government policy that will protect the future of important international habitats,” says Andrew.
“In my 25-year career with Yorkshire Water, that’s been the highlight.”
* Roughly 70 percent of an adult’s body is made up of water
* While the daily recommended amount of water is eight cups, not all of this must be consumed in liquid form. Nearly every food or drink item provides some water to the body
* Somewhere between 70 and 75 percent of the earth’s surface is covered with water
* The earth is a closed system, similar to a terrarium, meaning that it rarely loses or gains extra matter. The same water that existed on the earth millions of years ago is still present today
* The total amount of water on the earth is about 326 million cubic miles of water.
* Of all the water on the earth, humans can only use about three-tenths of one percent of it.