Wrong kind of rain fails to end drought

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The Independent Online
As a damp August drizzled to its close this weekend, the Government's Environment Agency warned that groundwater levels were still extremely low and falling - and the drought was not over. Nor was there any immediate prospect that hosepipe or sprinkler bans which cover 3 million people would be lifted.

By yesterday morning, rainfall over England and Wales was already 10 per cent above the long-term average for August, with three days of the month left to go. Another showery weekend was being forecast. Other Meteorological Office statistics also suggest that the drought has broken. Rainfall in the months of June, July and August will be at least 34 per cent above the long- term average for the period, following a torrential June.

But none of this rain has percolated through the soil to start replenishing the water supplies stored in porous rocks underground. Instead, it has been soaked up by the dry soil, evaporated back into the air from the leaves of plants or run off into rivers and reservoirs which, overall, are nearly three-quarters full - a healthy level for the time of year.

The agency says that heavy autumn and winter rainfall is needed for the groundwater to recover. The water level in all 53 of the boreholes it routinely monitors around the country is below the average for this time of year, and at 10 of them it is at a record low. The flows in all but 3 of the 35 "indicator" rivers it monitors around England and Wales are also below average for the month. A two-year dry spell, with low rainfall through much of last winter and spring, is to blame.

Three water companies have hose or sprinkler bans in all or parts of their areas - Southern, Essex and Suffolk, and Sutton and East Surrey. None has any near-term plans to end the restrictions.