Of all the water on earth, only 3% is drinkable water and two thirds of that is inaccessible or frozen in the glaciers or ice caps; this leaves only 1% for humans to drink.
Water conservation refers to reducing the usage of water and recycling of waste water for different purposes, such as cleaning , manufacturing, and agricultural irrigation.
Even though we are an island, the UK has less available water per person than many other European countries. Although our rainfall is similar to other parts of Europe, we have less water available per person than France, Italy or Greece.
Rising population levels, growing numbers of homes using more water and the ongoing removal of water from rivers means the way we currently use water is damaging our natural environment in some areas and is not sustainable.
By 2020, increasing population and household growth will mean the total demand for water is likely to be around 5% higher than today - to meet that demand we would need an extra 800 million litres of water per day!
When water levels in rivers fall, birds lose their food sources and oxygen levels can become dangerously low for fish.
Getting water into our taps also has a huge carbon cost too, with the carbon emissions from treating and transporting water. An average UK family uses about 500 litres of water per day, which results in more than 1.5 tonnes of carbon escaping into the atmosphere every year.
Taking steps now to use water wisely, will not only help ensure the future of the water supply, it will also help the natural environment.
Reducing our water consumption will save money for those on a water meter, if all the members of a family of four who have a water meter were to save 20 litres a day, the annual saving would be about £75 per year. Water heated for use in taps, baths and showers makes up around 30% of average household gas bills - that's around £200 a year, so following simple water saving tips could go a long way to reduce this bill. For example, if every person in a family of four cut a minute off their daily shower, they could save between £20 and £40 a year off their energy bill.
One fifth of a household's carbon footprint comes just from heating water for baths, showers and washing up.
The average water use in England is around 150 litres of water per person a day. If we imagine 264 pints of milk on our doorstep in the morning, that's 150 litres. This is consistently higher than the average amount of water used by people in European countries like Germany and Holland. In Germany, for example, average water use per person, per day is only 127 litres.
Many of us could quite easily use water more efficiently - and reduce our average consumption to around 130 litres of water a day - without having to make any major changes to our lifestyle.
The Government is already taking action to reduce waste and has brought in minimum standards for the water use of certain fittings and appliances such as toilets, washing machines and dishwashers. New provisions in building regulations will require efficient fittings in new housing. Manufacturers are developing a wider range of water efficient products which in turn are being stocked and promoted.
Most water companies have made good progress in reducing leakage in line with targets set by Ofwat (which regulates water and sewerage providers in England and Wales). Since 1997 leakage has been reduced by 27% and water companies plan to reduce leakage by a further 10% by 2035. In addition Ofwat has recently set new water efficiency targets for water companies for 2010-2015.
Most of the water is used for washing and toilet flushing, but it also includes drinking, cooking, car washing and watering the garden. We use almost 50% more water than 25 years ago, partly because of the use of power showers and household appliances.
What can you do?
Future Water, the Government's water strategy for England, outlines a vision for the average person to reduce the water they use by 20 litres per day (to 130 litres a day). Here is an A-Z of water saving tips that may help in achieving this target.
A dripping tap could waste as much as 90 litres a week.
Brushing your teeth with the tap running wastes almost 9 litres a minute. Rinse out from a tumbler instead.
Cool water kept in the fridge means you won't have to run the tap for ages to get a cold drink.
Don't use your washing machine until you've got a full load. The average wash needs about 95 litres. A full load uses less water than 2 half loads.
Every time you boil an egg save the cooled water for your houseplants. They'll benefit from the nutrients released from the shell.
Fit a water saving device in your cistern and save up to three litres a flush.
Grow your grass a little longer. It will stay greener than a close mown lawn and need less watering.
Hoeing stimulates the growth of plants, reduces water loss from the soil surface and removes weeds that take up valuable water and nutrients.
Installing a water meter can save you water and money by monitoring how much you use.
Just taking a five minute shower very day, instead of a bath, will use a third of the water, saving up to 400 litres a week.
Kettles should be filled with enough water for your needs but not to the brim. This will reduce your fuel bills too.
Lag your pipes to avoid bursts and leave your heating on a low setting while you are out in cold weather to prevent pipes freezing.
Mulch for moisture in the garden. Adding a layer of tree bark, compost, coconut husks or even newspaper keeps the sun off the soil and retains precious moisture.
No further watering is usually required for established trees and shrubs.
Once a week is all the watering your lawn needs even in the hottest weather. Over- watering can weaken your lawn by encouraging roots to seek the surface.
Purchasing a water butt will help you to collect rain water for use on the garden.
Question your local garden centre about the water requirements of different plants. Some thrive in drier conditions.
Replacing a toilet cistern can save water. Toilets manufactured after 1993 use less water per flush.
Sprinklers can be wasteful. It doesn't take long for a sprinkler to soak your lawn thoroughly. A sprinkler can use as much water in an hour as a family of four will use in a day!
Trigger nozzles can save water by using it only when needed. This can save up to 225 litres a week.
Use the dirty water when cleaning a fish tank on your houseplants. It's rich in nitrogen and phosphorus, which provides an excellent fertiliser.
Very 'water efficient' washing machines and dishwashers are now manufactured. Machines with 'A' ratings are the most economical. You'll find that they save on energy too.
Water your garden at the coolest part of the day to reduce evaporation.
Xeriscape means 'to landscape for water conservation.' The idea is to use plants that require less water. You can also utilise objects for decorative effect such as rocks, bricks, benches and gravel.
You can use less water by turning the hot tap down, rather than the cold tap up, if you require cooler water.
Z The end of the alphabet but not the end of water saving ideas - why not get in touch and tell us of any you've discovered?
Energy Saving Trust (Scotland) - Water Energy Calculator
This link is an easy to use calculator, which can very quickly provide you with details of how much water and water related energy your household uses:
A number of the UK's water companies offer free water saving devices, such as a Flush Saver and Tap Inserts, follow the attached links, for further details on Yorkshire Water and Thames Water offers: