Drought alert: the 2005 water crisis

A A A

There should be water, lots of it; but baked, cracked clay is all there is. The picture on our front page shows how critical the water supply has become after the driest winter and spring in south-east England in nearly 30 years.

It looks like somewhere in Africa but it is actually the bed of Weir Wood reservoir near East Grinstead in Sussex, which is the main supply for 25,000 homes - about 60,000 people - in the town of Crawley. Southern Water said it was down to 40 per cent of its normal capacity.

The company, which supplies more than two million customers across the South-east, announced sprinkler and hosepipe bans in parts of its operating area six weeks ago, to cope with one of the worst droughts in the region on record. It fears there may have to be even more cutbacks as the summer continues. Five of the eight water companies in southern England have imposed restrictions, and the others may follow.

The drought has been severe. In the eight months from November until the end of June, the counties of Surrey and Sussex had only 58 per cent of their average rainfall for the period; it was their driest winter and spring since 1975-76, and the third driest in nearly 100 years.

The South-east as a whole, including London, is not far behind, and yesterday Thames Water, Britain's biggest water company which supplies the capital and more than 10 million people in total, said restrictions might have to be imposed next month if the situation did not improve.

Three weeks ago, Londoners were given an early warning of possible trouble ahead when the capital's Mayor, Ken Livingstone, asked them to refrain from always flushing the lavatory.

Lavatories should not be flushed when merely "taking a pee", Mr Livingstone said, adding that the measure would be a matter of personal choice, although he had changed his own behaviour, and he appealed for London residents to follow suit.

South-east England is at the fringe of the drought that is affecting parts of western Europe, in particular France and Spain. The western regions of France, in particular, have been very hard hit and cereal farmers fear for their harvest, especially those growing crops which need substantial irrigation, such as maize.

Although people in England have not yet been affected beyond having a limitation on their ability to water the garden, wildlife is suffering directly. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds released a graphic series of figures yesterday showing that once-common wading birds that need wet ground have had a catastrophic breeding season in the South-east. Wading birds need boggy grassland or damp meadows in which to nest and find their insect food.

Numbers of successful breeding lapwing, redshank and snipe have dropped by up to 80 per cent this year at five RSPB reserves in Sussex and Kent.

At Brading Marshes, an RSPB reserve on the Isle of Wight, where the low spring and summer rainfall has left land parched, redshanks have gone completely while just one pair of lapwings remains. "The South-east is undoubtedly drying up," said Phil Burston, the RSPB's senior water policy officer. "To save our wetlands, our wildlife and the livelihoods that depend on them, we must stop wasting so much water in homes and gardens, build houses to the highest water efficiency standards and force water companies to address their shameful rate of water leakage.

He added: "Failure to do it will see our wetlands ruined and billions of pounds squandered on unnecessary new reservoirs and more desalination plants."

Last week, Thames Water was criticised by Ofwat, the water regulator, for failing to meet its target for tackling leaks. It loses 915 million litres of water a day from old and crumbling pipes but says it has an extensive programme of pipe replacement.

The Environment Agency says below average rainfall and warm weather - if it continues - will cause serious problems for water companies in the South. We would expect to see more drought permit and drought order applications in these areas," a spokeswoman said. "There would be more hosepipe and sprinkler bans, and some non-essential use bans. Problems may extend towards the South-west and into limited parts of the Midlands and East Anglia.

"Most water companies will not have water supply problems until the end of August but we would expect to see further drought permit applications through the autumn to help reservoirs refill. We would have to restrict spray irrigation in some places to reduce environmental damage, and we would expect more widespread environmental problems, with fish kills, algal blooms and very low flows in some rivers."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?