Addressing a ‘water stressed’ South East of England

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Whilst the shortage of water in the South-East of England is nowhere near as serious as the situation in Cape Town, we are facing some of the same challenges to keep customers’ taps flowing; most notably, a growing population and less reliable weather patterns.

Although it seems to rain all the time in the UK, the South East is considered a ‘water stressed’ area (Environment Agency). The region gets half as much rain as other part of the country but there are a lot more people living in the area; meaning that the amount of water available per person is less than in countries like Morocco!

Whilst the shortage of water in the South-East of England is nowhere near as serious as the situation in Cape Town, we are facing some of the same challenges to keep customers’ taps flowing; most notably, a growing population and less reliable weather patterns.

Although it seems to rain all the time in the UK, the South East is considered a ‘water stressed’ area (Environment Agency). The region gets half as much rain as other part of the country but there are a lot more people living in the area; meaning that the amount of water available per person is less than in countries like Morocco!
40% of the water supplied by Affinity Water is collected from local rivers while the other 60% is taken from water that naturally collects in the rocks deep underground. This underground store of water is called groundwater, and the rock that holds it is called an aquifer. We drill deep holes into the aquifer and pump the water to the surface.

The aquifer only refills following long periods of heavy rainfall in the colder winter months (October to March). During this time the rain soaks into the soil, and slowly trickles down into the aquifer. This is the best time of year for the aquifer to refill because not as much water evaporates and plants and trees are using less water. In the warmer months the rainwater is more likely to evaporate or be used by plants and trees, so it will not reach the aquifer. Even during the colder months it can take up to 90 days for rainwater to reach the aquifer.

Here is a graph showing the long term average rainfall compared to the actual rainfall for the past year:

Water-levels

 

Following a very dry winter in 2016/17, the groundwater level stayed below average for the whole of 2017. Even with the heavy rainfall at the end of December, we have had much less rainfall than the long-term average. This means that the aquifer has not filled up as much as we would have liked and the groundwater levels are getting low. The amount of rainfall will need to be well above average in March – April to reduce the chance of water restrictions later this year.