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Did someone say hosepipe ban...

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With increasingly erratic weather patterns in the UK droughts are becoming a common feature of our summers. Periods of heavy rainfall throughout the winter can often be followed by prolonged dry spells during the summer. The average is one drought every 5-10 years however with the ever-looming threat of global warming this is only likely to increase.

drought 1976 great british summer

Historical drought

Whilst 2018 has been a particularly dry summer there is still a chance that substantial rainfall could even things out. The most recent drought experienced in the UK was in the summer of 2006. The two years prior to this were exceptionally dry which cumulated in a number of measures being taken to reduce water consumption across the UK.

The drought in 1976 will also be memorable to many people. This is regarded as the worst drought in living history, extending from June right through to August of that year. Parts of the country went up to 45 days without rain and an estimated £500 million worth of crops failed causing some food prices to soar.

There have also been very dry years in between these two events. 1989 for example was recorded as the driest in East Anglia for over a hundred years, whilst in the peak of the heatwave in 1995 all of the reservoirs in the Pennines ran dry.

Drought bans

All bans associated with drought in the UK are enforced by the Environment Agency. The first action they are likely to take is a media campaign, encouraging people to use less water and think about their everyday usage.

Beyond that a hosepipe ban will be introduced. This categorically bans the use of hosepipes effecting both homes and businesses. Tasks such as filling pools, washing cars and watering the garden using a hosepipe are prohibited.

In very exceptional circumstances the ban can be extended to banning the cleaning of vehicles, windows and buildings. Whilst this would be very rare for the UK it is certainly something that should be considered for the future.

Worst effected regions

In nearly all UK droughts on record the worst effected region is the South East of England; this is largely due to the population density, a large amount of people using a limited supply can quickly lead to shortages. Reservoirs in this region are also few and far between which places an unusually high demand on groundwater supplies.

Impacts

The impacts of drought are widespread and often much more serious than people think. Obvious impacts mean that water consumption must be managed and any non-essential tasks involving using water must cease.

The impacts to the environment however can be much greater. If river levels fall, the concentration of any pollution can prove fatal both to fish and any other wildlife that depend of the area as a source of food and water. Due to a lack of water flow, oxygen levels will also be depleted which can be catastrophic for any associated ecosystems.

Intermittent storms and capturing storm flow

As the weather becomes more changeable, it is not just drought which presents a problem. Short bursts of extremely heavy rainfall are also becoming more frequent throughout the year. Whilst flooding may be an issue at the time it is important that this water is harvested and retained for future use.

This can be done on a small scale at home by using items such as water butts and storage tanks; it is also of increasing concern to the Environment Agency. Storm drains, dedicated run offs and catchment areas are all vital in capturing this resource.

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