Drought crisis goes on despite rain

LAST month's heavy rain in Suffolk may have been good for gardens but it has done little to dampen the drought crisis.

LAST month's heavy rain in Suffolk may have been good for gardens but it has done little to dampen the drought crisis.

That's the message that Environment Agency bosses will be giving at an advisory panel meeting in Ipswich later this week.

The torrential rain during May has filled reservoirs - Alton Water is now 98 per cent full and cannot physically take any more water.

But it has not seeped through the soil into underground water tables and although it has temporarily boosted river levels these are not expected to remain high for long.

Marcus Sibley from the Environment Agency is due to tell its eastern area advisory panel about drought problems at a meeting on Friday.

He said: “We have had two dry winters in succession and many months of below average rainfall. The rain in May was welcome, but it really hasn't made much difference.

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“At this time of the year the water is soaked up by growing plants and trees or evaporates away. We think a very small amount did get through to recharge the groundwater but nothing too significant.”

The groundwater is now at a critical level and it is unlikely to be recharged until the autumn or winter at the earliest.

“We have to prepare for the worst and if we have another dry winter things will be very serious indeed,” said Mr Sibley.

At present Anglian Water and other water companies supplying customers in East Anglia have no proposals for water restrictions or rationing.

But they are aware that in the long-term, if the underground water reserves are not topped up, there will not be enough water to take from rivers to replenish these reservoirs.

And a spokeswoman for Anglian Water said the rain had helped with one element of water conservation.

She said: “The rain has meant that there has not been the pressure on the water companies from people looking after their gardens.

“We haven't seen many sprinklers out, which is good, but people do need to conserve water generally. We are having our first advertising campaign for many years to try to get the message across.”

Weblinks: www.anglianwater.co.uk; www.environment-agency.gov.uk

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Why didn't May's rain end talk of a drought?

Rivers get their water from two sources: underground water and from rainfall running off the land.

The groundwater should provide a permanent flow every day of the year. The water off the land boosts this and makes rivers flow faster.

The heavy rainfall in East Anglia in May increased river flows temporarily, allowing companies like Anglian to top up reservoirs like Alton Water.

However the rain did not reach the groundwater to give rivers a permanent boost - for that there will need to be above-average rainfall next autumn and winter.