9 January 1998

New Year wash-out only a short-term dampener

By Andrew Blake

TORRENTIAL rain has left land sodden and put a stop to field work in many areas. But the reservoir-replenishing wash-out is welcome in the longer term, especially in East Anglia where falling groundwater levels have put irrigation increasingly under pressure.

Met Office data shows December rainfall was well above average in many areas – East Anglia was 50% wetter than norma.

November was also very wet in some regions, notably the south-west and south-east which had about 70% more than their monthly mean. The net result was that 1997 was just 3% drier than the long-term average.

Recent deluges are helping refill south-eastern rivers and reservoirs, says a spokesman for the Water Services Association. But recharging groundwater supplies is a longer-term exercise.

"You have to remember that the 30 months to Oct 1997 was the driest period on record." Several more months of sustained rainfall are required to offset that, he maintains.

Anglian Water points out that six of the past eight years in its region have been classified as drought. Groundwater levels continue to be low or very low.

A Peterborough-based Environmental Agency spokeswoman notes that up to November reserves in the Suffolk chalk aquifer had reached an "all time historic minimum". Only nine of the 32 months up to then had been wetter than average, she adds.

"Rain doesnt hurt the situation. If it had stayed dry it really would have been quite serious." However, the effect on irrigation restrictions is too soon to predict.

WATER EVERYWHERE

&#8226 Rain helps redress drought, but irrigation bans not ruled out.

&#8226 Field work at a standstill.

&#8226 Bulb fly & herbicide concerns.

&#8226 Nitrogen leaching rates more normal.

RAINFALL REPORTS

&#8226 Norfolk: 36.6mm (1.4in) in first five days of January, plus 105.2mm (4.1in) in December (nearly twice the months 28-year average).

&#8226 South Notts: 48mm (1.9in) in the first six days of January. Water lying in ridge and furrow land for first time in four years.

&#8226 Kent: Over 50mm (2in) in January so far. Water lying where it has never been seen before.