Posts Tagged ‘Water’

Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink

April 28, 2012

Since water authorities declared a drought in south-east England a month ago, the heavens have opened and torrential rain has bucketed down. Rivers swell, roads flood, the ground is sodden, and humans splash through puddles and squalls.

Yet the drought is as bad as ever, hosepipes remain banned (not quite a priority just now), and users must cut back on consumption, according to the water companies. Why? Because they draw their water through boreholes from groundwater. And these groundwaters have been running low for some time. Meanwhile, the water that falls from the heavens is drunk by growing plants, evaporates or runs away into rivers and the sea.

In the neighbouring area to the west, the rain pours down too. Plants eagerly suck up what they can, and doubtless some evaporates too. But there is no drought, nor any restriction on consumption – in fact no shortage of water at all. The reason? They get their water from reservoirs, into which much of the rain falling over surrounding hillsides is gathered. The reservoirs are nearly full.

In the southeast, they plead lack of reservoirs. So what? For thousands of years, peasants have found ways of steering scarce water long distances to where it is needed. Romans constructed aqueducts from far-off hills to supply whole towns. Ancient Constantinople built huge cisterns in the city centre. Today’s gardeners feed rainwater off roofs into butts. And there are some reservoirs in this part of England, just not many.

We certainly shouldn’t waste water. But nor should the water providers squander the huge supplies they are being presented with by the heavens.

The water companies are privately-owned, but consumers have no choice. Each company serves an area on its own. The result is a bureaucracy which reacts as bureaucracies do in a shortage: tell people not to use it. That’s not good enough. How about some innovative thinking and investment in new facilities? The water is there to be taken.

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