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If it rains so much, why is there a hosepipe ban? 

Is it possible to have droughts AND heavy rain happening in the same place at the same time? The answer is, perhaps surprisingly, yes, and here’s why. 

How can you have drought and rain?

News headlines have been full of drought and hosepipe bans

At first glimpse, it doesn’t sound logical at all. Droughts are caused by a lack of water and dry spells, right? So heavy rainfall should fix that. But what’s key here is how long the drought has been going on, and how the rain falls. 

At the end of Summer 2022, large swathes of the UK are in drought conditions, and hosepipe bans have been implemented. But we frequently experience catastrophically heavy rainfall at the same time, which causes flooding. 

This heavy rainfall often delivers sometimes a month’s worth of rain in just a few hours, so while the same amount of rain on average is falling, it’s happening all at the same time. This causes several problems. 

Heavy rain = flooding

Flooding in Morpeth, England
Photo of flooding in Morpeth, England by Johndal https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0

Firstly, there’s the immediate issue of flooding. If the ground is hard and dry, water will run off it to start with rather than be absorbed and soaked down into the soil. This exacerbates flooding. And of course we’ve got large areas of land that are now covered in tarmac and buildings, neither of which will be helping absorb water. 

Secondly, because it’s all falling so quickly and heavily and running off into rivers and eventually the sea, relatively little of it soaks into the ground to recharge groundwater, aquifers (which are natural reservoirs for water usually made up of porous rock), lakes and reservoirs. So while the same amount of water may be falling from the sky, a much lower percentage is actually entering the part of the water cycle we need it to. 

So gradually our natural and man-made water stores get lower and lower in their water levels, so there’s not as much water available to supply the demand we place on it. And that means water saving measures need to be put in place, like hosepipe bans. 

Map showing drought locations in europe, July 2022
Drought alerts in Europe as of July 21st 2022 by the European Drought Observatory, creative commons license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0

Sadly, this type of weather pattern is likely to become more common with climate change, with hotter summers and more extreme weather causing more intense periods of rainfall. 

But there are things we can all do to help, like use less water, and use it carefully. Do a water audit in your home – are there ways you can save water? 

Easy ways to save water in your home

  • Don’t leave the tap running while you brush your teeth
  • Only fill the kettle to the mount of water you really need
  • Put a jug of water in the fridge so you don’t need to wait for the tap to run cold
  • Fill the washing machine every time you use it, so you need to do fewer washes
  • Use a bucket of water to wash your bike or car rather than a hosepipe

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