UK in drought

UK in drought

Why do droughts happen?

What is a drought?

A drought is a shortage of water. It happens after a period of time without rain.

In the UK, many counties in the south and east are in drought. This means that their stores of water are low.

Why is the south of UK in drought?

2010 and 2011 were very dry years. Rainfall was well below average. March was the driest month in 59 years!

We need rain to fill up our aquifers (underground water sources) and rivers. Without rain, our aquifers and rivers dry out.

Some aquifers in the south east are at their lowest levels ever recorded.

Water cycle

Two years of dry weather has led to low levels of ground water storage

What about all the rain?

April 2010 has been the wettest since records began in 1912. But all this water hasn't been enough to fill reservoirs.

In the south east of the UK, most of the ground is made of chalk. Chalk is permeable, so rainfall can soak into the ground. This fills up aquifers. Most of south east England's drinking water comes from aquifers.


A month of rain isn't enough to refill aquifers

After two years of low rainfall, the chalky ground is dry and hard. Because the ground is so hard, water can't sink in.

This means that water doesn't fill the underground water reservoirs. Instead, it runs off the dry ground and enters rivers.

If there is a lot of rain running off dry ground, rivers fill up quickly. This can cause flooding.

The Environment Agency have said that it will take more than a month of heavy rainfall to undo the effects of the two dry years we have had.

Save water_99535007

Saving water is important for wildlife

Although this rain is good, it is important that it rains in winter and autumn. In spring and summer, much of the rain is used up by plants and lost to evaporation

Autumn and winter rainfall fills up aquifers more quickly than spring and summer rain. Low autumn and winter rainfall means that aquifers do not fill up. The dry autumn and winter of 2010 and 2011 meant that aquifers dried out.

How can I help?

There are lots of ways to save water:

  • Turn off the taps when you brush your teeth - a running tap can use 6 litres of water per minute!
  • Take shorter showers - a shower uses 10 litres of water per minute!
  • Turn off the tap when you wash the dishes or fruit/veg - use a washing up bowl instead.

Visit Thames Water to find more tips for saving water.

Curriculum information