Ok, I know it’s normal for us English to discuss the weather. In fact, it’s the standard form of greeting when meeting a stranger an needing to fill an awkward silence. So, most of the time. But this week, this fortnight actually,I have seen and heard nothing else but weather comments. The internet is full to overflowing with pictures and stories of flooding. The Social media sites are brimming with sad tales of washed out day trips and ruined garden plans. Then there is the irony, the huge misunderstanding of a basic element of geology and the bandwagon that is The Drought.
The Drought is an environmental situation. It is not a government initiative or action, it is a state of affairs brought about by an imbalance of water user demand and stored water availability.
That’s the point.
Demand outstripping supply is not the means to a drought. The very thing that is causing the disgruntled statuses and the outraged tweets is the fact that it has been raining, heavy,hard thick rain, for most of the last 10 days and yet we still have a drought. The lack of education or information perhaps has resulted in the major misunderstanding yet most people understand that we can’t and don’t drink rain water. It must be filtered, cleaned (to some extent) and purified to a degree in many cases greater than bottled water before it hits our taps. But the start of the whole process comes with collecting and storing the rain water.
Now, I’m no water expert. I don’t know the finer details of purification or desalination but I am a gardener an I know about water tables and ground water sources.
Rain soaks through the surface soil, runs off impermeable surfaces and through porous rock, finding its way to the lowest point where water can no longer travel. Often these places are underground but often they are man made or natural bowls. All that takes time. If the rain comes own or too long at too high a rate, the soil cannot soak it all up an becomes waterlogged, literally a log jam of water. That is why we get saturation, flooded plains and gardens, overflowing drains and road closures.
If we are at drought point an the heavens open, there is a long delay before that water hits the reservoir.
As all gardeners with water butts will confirm, once the butt is full, you can’t fill it any further.
So, I understand and sympathise with those who are seeing ducks floating past the letter box but until the floods hit the reservoir, it is still a drought situation. Famine or Feast, Drought or Flood it is the disparity between not enough and suddenly too much that causes the upset.
So, what can we all do to avoid repetition?
Building bigger reservoirs seems an obvious answer but that means land grabbing, compulsory land purchases and all sort of politically noxious moves. Expand existing ones?
again, rife with problems but technically more feasible. What about speeding up or improving the supply line? Water companies have an unenviable reputation for wasting water through burst pipes. With the amount of mileage of plumbing they are responsible for though makes for a mind boggling challenge. As daunting as it is though, it must be improved, with the threat of massive financial penalties if necessary.
Finally, back to the old campaign favourite, limit the demand by changing how we use water. I have long been a advocate of rain water collection for the garden but why not use it for other things. Grey water is water that has been used and recycled and which can be used to replace tap water when it is not required for human consumption, basically not use for food or drink.
Washing machines have improve in the last few years but they are still major water consumers so why not use grey water or rain water? The water will be heated and detergents added so the purity isn’t an issue.
My wife, and many years before, my sisters , used to swear by rain water as a way to add softness to their hair and would heat up rain water to wash their hair in.For us in the south , it is due to the alkalinity of the local water made so by the natural lime stone landscape.
Washing the car,dog or patio can be done with rain or grey water. In fact, if you are not cooking with it or drinking it, why use expensive and increasingly scarce tap water?
By reducing the use we can hold more in the supply chain for longer. At least that way, next time we get a biblical style flood we won’t feel so hard done by.
And finally, as the best t.v. programmes always say, why are we constantly surprised by wet weather in spring or , equally, cold weather in winter ?
Yes, we have had extremes but that’s always been the case in the past. Previous records have been broken, that’s how they became records. But dry springs and warm winters are more of a worry than admittedly heavy showers in April or a white out (near) Christmas.
The media loves a sensation but if we remember that we have always had rain in spring, in fact we could not garden or farm without it, then the amount may vary but it is still very much a natural, seasonal thing.