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Water shortages ahead despite wet winter

THE Meteorological Office is forecasting another summer of water shortages because not enough winter rainfall has reached the underground aquifers, the deep water-filled caverns that supply much of the nation's demand.

Although last winter was the wettest since 1978, with 20 per cent more rainfall than average, it is 'not enough to ensure 1993 will be free of hosepipe bans', the Met Office says. A relatively dry spring has exacerbated the problem. It says that the aquifers have started to refill. 'But it will take another wet summer and an equally wet winter to bring many of them up to safe levels.

'The seven-month period (to the end of January) saw 27 inches of rainfall over England and Wales - 20 per cent more than average,' it says.

Winter rain is vital to the replenishment of the aquifers. Mike Woodley from the Met Office's Climatological Consultancy Unit said: 'The trouble after a long period of drought is that when rain falls it is taken up by plants and is transpired, evaporates and disappears into drains. The ground itself is left quite dry below the surface.'

Two dry summers in a row have left the soil exceptionally dry. 'It is not until the ground is thoroughly saturated right through that new rainfall can reach to the deep underground aquifers. Even though the reservoirs may be full and the rivers are flowing again, it is vital for those underground resources to refill too,' Mr Woodley said.