Earlier this week I met a huge articulated lorry on a country lane.  It was carrying a big load of hay: something one might easily see on a tractor on that road, but not a big lorry.  I was on the bike, but had to pull in at a passing place to meet it.

It’s a bit of a puzzle.  What was a load of hay doing there in April, and why was it on a lorry whose natural environment should surely be the motorway?  My best guess is that here it’s surplus to requirements after a much milder winter than in the past two years, but that someone in the drought-hit east or southeast of England needs to supplement their animal feed.

Last weekend our powers-that-be extended the official drought area to include us (southwest England) and the Midlands.  That’s interesting, because water levels in our reservoirs, though rather low for April, are almost identical to where they were this time last year.  With this week’s rain (heavy showers – classic April weather) they’ll creep up above where they were a year ago.  So why have they declared us a drought area?  Do they have plans to transport our water eastwards?

For the record, we have had three months of very dry weather from about the second week of January to a few days ago, including a couple of exceptionally warm and sunny weeks at the end of March.  But following a very wet end to last year there was lots of ground water to feed the reservoirs and (coupled with seasonally low demand) stop them depleting.

WordPress isn’t allowing me to embed SouthWest Water’s relevant graph (and infuriatingly offers no clue why: I even checked for any metadata suggesting copyright might be an issue, but there is none).  So here’s a link to our reservoir levels.  Note that if you read this post after the end of 2012 the graph will no longer show what I’m talking about.

Posted on April 19, 2012, in seasons. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Drought conditions reflect the current state of the rivers and ground water levels (which are low for the time of year), so are linked only indirectly to the level of stored water supplies in our reservoirs (which, as you say, are average by recent standards). That’s why we have a technical drought but no water usage restrictions in the south west at present.

    In the south east, where they rely more heavily on aquifers for public supplies, the linkage is more direct, hence hosepipe bans etc.

    I doubt that the infrastructure exists to transport our water eastwards (for the moment at least – there are mutterings about a national water grid being built some time in the future).

  2. To my personal knowledge, there have been “mutterings about a national water grid” any time these past 25 years. In theory water could be transported by canal, but with the existing infrastructure that would be incredibly wasteful.

    I assume SouthWest Water has its own good reasons, but it could engender a lot more trust by sharing those more widely. Let people download all the relevant information – not just reservoir levels, but rainfall, groundwater, projected demand, historical leakage data – from their website in CSV form.

  3. vet, it’s only just occurred to me that you really mean it when you say your personal knowledge. You must’ve been publishing learned articles on such subjects in your journalistic and editorial work of the late ’80s and ’90s!

  4. You can use hay as a mulch to stop water evaporating. Maybe it was being transported for that rather than having just been mown.

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