Glorious weather raises water concerns

Wednesday 20th Apr 2011 by theWeather club

As night follows day, and the taxman follows all of us, a few days of sunshine will inevitably be followed by warnings of water shortages and the looming threat of hosepipe bans. Most of the UK has been enjoying glorious early spring sunshine for the past few days, so it was only a matter of time before the first warning bells were sounded.

In a statement that calls to mind the dreaded ‘vote of confidence’ for a struggling football manager, South West Water (SWW) - which supplies Devon and Cornwall, as well as parts of Somerset and Dorset - has said it is confident it will not need to impose water restrictions later in the summer. This - it points out - despite March being the driest in south-west England for more than 50 years. They explained that river levels were as low as they were before the 1976 drought set in, but added the company had pumped millions of litres into reservoirs to top them up. In Devon, the level of Roadford reservoir is down to 77%, compared with 94% last year. Burrator reservoir is 25% down on this time in 2010. SWW said the region had about a third of the usual levels of March rainfall and that, halfway through April, there had only been 10% of the normal rainfall.

And it not just the water companies who are watching hopefully for some clouds on the horizon. Jeremy Oatey, who farms on the Rame Peninsula in south-east Cornwall, told the BBC. “If the weather continues like this into May, I think it will become very worrying,” he said. “It's been dry through most of March and April and there's no sign of any change.” Commenting on the situation, SWW communications manager Chris Mills said: “We prioritise the use of water resources. Sometimes we use the river water when it's available, and then we switch priority to reservoirs later on.” He added: "We now have two more reservoirs - Park and Stannon in Cornwall. We have also upgraded our distribution network so it is easier to move water around the region. Also leakage has been reduced by 60% since 1989 and we have improved the efficiency of our works so we use less water in our treatment processes.” Mr Mills ended by saying “We'd like to emphasise that we are confident this will be our 15th consecutive year without water restrictions.”

So the official line is not to worry, as there are no plans for water restrictions in the pipeline. However you can’t help wondering if pointing out that something shouldn’t happen is a not so subtle way of warning us that it just might. Anyway it seems that the great gardening public are taking no chances. Among the items enjoying a surge in sales in gardening centres across the land are water butts and watering cans.