I know that’s a terrible cliché, but it happens to be true at the moment. Because the UK is currently experience both a drought and floods at the same time. Back in March, the news started coming through that the lack of enough rain in the past two winters meant that the South East of England was officially in a drought. This meant that a ban on using a hosepipe to water your garden was brought in. Naturally, mass hysteria resulted – largely because this hasn’t happened since the great drought of 1976. Mention was even made of standpipes, which just served to fuel the worry.
The newspapers made quite a meal of this. My favourite was a tabloid suggesting that a possible solution was to set your garden shed on fire. When the fire brigade comes and puts it out, they’ll be likely to splash a bit of water on your parched plants.
But then April came along, and as usual, it rained a bit. “April showers bring May flowers”, after all. But then it rained more, and more, and it ended up being the wettest April on record. Quite a few areas were on flood warnings. Including some of those in the drought stricken areas. Where, of course, the water restrictions remained in situ.
The official story to explain this is that we rely heavily on winter rainfall to replenish the groundwater that is used to supply drinking water to towns and cities. And the past two winters have been a lot drier than usual. Spring and Summer rainfall doesn’t make it through to the groundwater as well as Winter rain does – much of this water just runs off, or is used by plants in their growing phase, or doesn’t soak down deep enough.
While that does explain things a little, one gets the sense of backroom desperation from the water companies. They made a big fuss of the drought in March, and the news of water restrictions for much of the South East wasn’t taken very well by the population at large. For them to do an about-turn a mere month later would seem very weak and wishy-washy. Can’t have that happening, guv’nor.
But what makes it slightly more complicated is that the water companies have been widely excoriated for not maintaining their infrastructure properly, and thus losing millions of litres of water from leaky pipes and reservoirs. But they’re still paying their chief execs tidy little bonuses. And so the public is starting to get just a little bit irate with this lot. I suspect it will be an interesting summer if things get warm…