Friday, January 20, 2012

Britain in Midst of Severe Drought

Keeping water restrictions forefront in the public's mind even comes by way of bus advertisement. Photo courtesy: Bonnie Alter

I was sitting in my livingroom this afternoon watching the tradesperson power wash my balcony. Our complex has chosen to clean up the building and remove algal growth by the use of highly-pressurized water. As I watched the copious amounts of water being used drain off the balcony, I realized our complex had used enough water to supply a small village for one year for this one single purpose.

How totally wasteful when other countries are suffering through droughts with barely enough clean drinking water to satisfy the peoples' thirst.

It's the driest spring since 1976 and the south east part of England is under watering restrictions. They will affect 20 million people and there is a £1,000 ($1,500) fine for flouting the rules.

The cause is two years of very low rainfall and unseasonably dry weather. Reservoirs are well below normal levels and some tributaries of the Thames River have been reduced to mere trickles.

Water is precious and we should all be trying to use less of it in everyday life. During the last drought there was a 10% reduction in demand for water, so people can do it. The funny thing about the ban is that the restrictions are things that we should be doing all the time, not just during a drought.

For example, using grey water, which is recycled household water, to water plants.

One way around water restrictions is to collect rain water in a rain barrel or butt. Photo courtesy: crocus

--Getting a rainwater barrel (called butts in the UK) for the garden and collecting rain water in it. This can then be used to water plants. In fact, many people are doing this--so far three times the amount sold last year have already been snatched up by eager gardeners. Rain water is actually healthier for your plants than tap water as it does not have all the additives we put in our drinking water.

--Use a watering can to water plants: double the number of these have also been sold to date.

--Using a trickle irrigation system in the garden--they release the water gradually and are more efficient. Trickle irrigation systems can use approx. 50% less water than traditional irrigation systems.

--No filling the wading pool with a hose, although buckets of water are allowed.

--No filling up the swimming pool either.

--Washing your car with a bucket and elbow grease, not with the hose.

So how bad is it to use a hose? Apparently "hosepipes typically use 225 litres in 15 minutes – that's 900 litres in an hour. When used they tend to be left on for long periods of time, so a hosepipe ban is seen as a relatively effective way to cut down on excessive water usage."

The Trafalgar Square fountain. Photo courtesy: Mike Fleming

The glorious fountain in Trafalgar Square is going to be switched off as part of the ban. So will 29 other fountains in the London area. But not the Diana Memorial Fountain as it has its own borehole supply.

But even if everyone behaved and followed the ban, the problem would not be solved. Despite the best intentions, the real issue is the water companies: they lose 3.36 billion litres of water a day in leaks. If the leaks were fixed there would be more than enough water. Thames Water was the worst; losing more than 600 million litres a day.

The ban is crucial to saving wildlife which has suffered since the winter in some areas. One official explained "This hosepipe ban is an essential part of dealing with a crisis which could be devastating for wildlife in our countryside. Reducing demand now will help keep more water in the environment, keeping rivers flowing for longer and protecting their precious wildlife."

As for enforcing the ban...the seven water companies have said that they won't be because they've "got better things to do with our money, like fixing leaks."

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