It's summer, so we're bitten by bugs ... ... dried up and hosed down

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The Independent Online
This year's British summer has, so far, been only a little hotter than the long-term average, according to the Meteorological Office. No temperature records have been broken to date, not even last year's 32.7C. This has not prevented the press from dishing up a superb variety of high temperature stories. One of the best was the Daily Mail's account last week of how it managed to fry two eggs on a west London pavement - very slowly.

Far more exceptional has been the rainfall - or rather the lack of it. The four months beginning in April this year have been the fifth driest such period in England and Wales since reliable, widespread records began in 1727.

Why no drought, then? Because last December, January and February comprised the fifth wettest winter in the same 267-year record, so the aquifers and reservoirs which store the nation's water were filled to the brink.

There are some patchy water shortages. Some 600,000 homes in and around Bradford, including parts of west Leeds, are subject to a hosepipe ban. The moorland reservoirs that supply them have low water levels after a locally dry winter and spring.

In the South-east, water shortages have been caused by heavy demand rather than any lack of resources. On occasion, the mains network and the holding reservoirs that contain treated drinking water have not been able to cope with the turning on of hundreds of thousands of sprinklers and hoses in the late afternoon. The resulting drop in pressure has left some outlying and hilltop homes without water.

Mid Kent water, which supplies more than half a million homes in and around Maidstone, Canterbury and Ashford, has sought to cut demand by asking its customers living in even and odd numbered homes to water the garden on even and odd dates respectively. Un-numbered houses are asked to sprinkle on alternate dates.

The company says it seems to be working. But when the month ends next week it will face probing questions about Monday and Tuesday's sprinkling arrangements: 31 July followed by 1 August gives the odds an unfair advantage, as the evens will doubtless point out.

NICHOLAS SCHOON

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