Mark Taylor, Advanced Services operations manager at Water Plus, outlines how farmers can maximise their water efficiency and ensure their system is fighting fit in the critical weeks ahead.
With the summer now in full swing, water usage will be reaching its annual peak for farms and estates across the UK.
While the exceptional heat of last summer hasn’t been replicated this year so far, the agricultural industry remains, to some extent, at the mercy of the elements throughout July and August.
Agricultural set-ups will always be the first to feel the pressure of the temperature rising. It was no surprise, for example, that the organisers of the Glastonbury festival this year put in place their usual shower restrictions after the hot weather saw an increase in demand for water.
Most working farms won’t experience the pressures, and water management challenges, of hosting 200,000 people during a heatwave.
However, low rainfall this spring, particularly in the East of England, has seen some rivers decline to below average levels for this time of year.
In addition, the recent hot weather will have done little to replenish groundwater stores, meaning it’s vital that farmers safeguard their water supply against disruption.
But where to start?
Proactive leak detection
Dripping taps, burst pipes or leaking troughs can be deceptively costly if left unchecked. A burst pipe alone can potentially leak more than one cubic metre of water – the equivalent of 1,000 litres – every hour.
Put in financial terms, that’s more than £26,000-worth of water being, quite literally, washed down the drain every year. More importantly, though, leaks (however small) put pressure on the system and can lead to a critical outage on a farm site.
Identifying that something is wrong within the system – such as a leak – before it becomes critical, is therefore, key.
Keep track of the water you’re using
Any continuous flow through your farm’s water meter could indicate a potential leak. The most efficient way to check for a leak is to stop using the system for at least an hour - if there is a water leak then readings will continue to go up.
While this approach isn’t always practical on an arable or dairy farm, it can save a great deal of pain in the long-run and prevent any existing issues escalating.
More typically, keeping an eye on water meter data and noting down usage over the course of the summer months will indicate whether something is amiss.
The majority of the water infrastructure – from the point of the water meter – in the boundaries of your land is the property owner’s legal responsibility, just like it is for homeowners, so it pays to make sure it’s in good working order.
In the event of an outage or drop in pressure, check with neighbouring properties to see if they’re affected too. The wholesaler for your area can also be contacted to check whether they’re aware of any issues on their network that may affect your site.
If your neighbours are not affected and there’s no issues on the wholesaler network then you’ll need to check your system to see if there is a leak or problem on your estate and arrange any repairs.
Make the most of the on-site supply
Safeguarding also means reducing water use where possible. There are many jobs that will not require mains-quality water like washing down hardstanding areas.
If possible, separate potable (safe to drink) and non-potable water supplies. Nearby water sources – such as wells, springs, streams, rivers or lakes – can also be used in the long-term, as well as in an emergency.
Whether they are in regular use or not, proactively testing alternative water sources for quality is a good measure and helps ensure they meet the standards of both Defra, the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) and the Environment Agency, when you need to call on these sources.
While farms with livestock are classified as ‘Category 4 Sensitive Customers’, meaning that they’ll be recognised as vulnerable during a wholesaler network supply interruption, sensitive sites such as hospitals, will be given priority for emergency water deliveries should supply disruptions occur.
Water is the lifeblood of many day-to-day agricultural operations, so it’s vital that you’re prepared and ensure your system is robust and reliable at all times.
We have more advice on the options available to you should your water supply be interrupted on our dedicated Farmers Page.