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Clare Nasir Headshot

Watch Your Water

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Is this current dry spell something to worry about or should concerns be left to the workings of the water companies? Is it a blip or a trend that could see significant water shortages in the near future that will affect our everyday living?

March is parched
The provisional weather figures for March from the Met Office, issued 29 March, paints a dry and dusty picture across Britain - that is more in keeping with the climate of AndalucĂ­a. The UK has only received 38% of its monthly average rainfall making it the 5th driest March since records began, but more interestingly it's been the driest March month in almost 60 years.

For many of us the welcome sunshine has added a little glow to pallid skin, introduced warm conversation to normally frosty neighbours and renewed hopes of a sizzling summer - Scotland has had its 2nd warmest March on record, only just pipped to the post by March 1938.

Personally I would love to squeeze another couple of sunny days out of this early spring and I rejoice every time the sun appears as, to be honest, it never lasts.

However, the parched land is spreading north and west. Gardens, parks and farmlands are all crying out for a soaking - but we can't just blame March; the rain stopped long before.

Fine spring, wash out summer... ?
Despite a wet December 2011 on the whole was a dry one, away from parts of Scotland. Much of central, eastern and southern England saw little rain, causing concerns for water resources, agriculture and the environment, and several Midland counties had their driest year on record.

Spring 2011 was warm and fine for most, and like passing chat today, there were high hopes of a BBQ summer - but oh no, how it rained through June, July and August. This pattern of dry, warm springs and cool, rainy summers occurred in 2010 as well.

The problem is that wet weather in the summer is the wrong kind of rain. The strength of the sun at this time of year, even behind thick cloud, tends to evaporate rainwater before it has a chance to seep into the ground and if this is preceded by a dry winter and spring - reserves can be significantly depleted.

This current situation stems from early 2010 when the first six months were the driest such period since 1953, and again, despite a wet July and August, 2010 ended as the 11th driest year on record.

April Showers?
The Met Office monthly forecast for this April isn't looking too promising for our shrubs and spring flowers either. Although there are indications that the weather pattern will be less settled there is no proper (real) rain on the horizon that will offset the fading reservoirs. River flows and groundwater levels are exceptionally low for the time of year, and soils unusually dry.

The area is huge; encompassing most of the country from the Dorset coast to Grimsby through to the south and east including London as well as further west and north into Yorkshire. The Environment Agency has stated in its latest Drought Prospect for Spring and Summer 2012, that 'significant further groundwater recharge is now unlikely. As plants start to grow and it becomes warmer, soils will dry out further'.

Watch your water
The southeast, East Anglia and Yorkshire are now under an official drought order, (although you may want to dip into OFWATs 2010 report; six water companies, including Southern, Veolia Central, Cambridge and Yorkshire failed to meet their targets).

In Britain we are blessed with a seemingly abundant water supply, the sort of supply other countries would fight over. However less than 1% of the worlds fresh water is accessible for use and consumption globally, and reoccurring patterns of long dry spells and shrinking reservoirs here at home should be a warning sign for us to take more care of our most precious 'common good'.

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