29 March 2006

Drought, English Style

Leaving Central London, I walked to Tottenham Court Tube in a steadily intensifying drizzle, got off at Notting Hill Gate and waited in a steady rain for the bus, got off the bus and ran for home in a downpour.

Ah, you say, a rainy night in London? And this is news because...?

It's news, of course, because we are supposedly enduring a terrible drought. Hosepipe bans have already been imposed in some areas, and we are warned to expect them over much of the country come summertime. And if things get any worse, we are warned, city water supplies may have to be shut off and we'll have to queue for water from standpipes in the street as happened in the drought of 1976.

Now tonight it's been raining more heavily than usual, but as I looked back over the week, I seemed to recall that it rained at least a little on every day but one. This is typical English stuff: it's not that, contrary to popular opinion, it rains constantly or even a lot here, it's that it rains at consistently inconvenient intervals. In other words, instead of having a good downpour one day and then enjoying a few days of sunny weather, we tend to have annoying spits and spurts of rain on a nearly daily basis. It's often no more than a quick shower or a half-hearted drizzle, but it's just enough to make planning a picnic or any other outdoor activity a lottery stacked strongly against you.

Psychologically, it causes you to think of London as a maddeningly rainy city, but in reality, it only gets half the rain New York City does, and about the same as San Francisco does (though since SF gets all its rain in the winter months and London's is spread out through the year, you'd think that London would feel a good bit drier; it doesn't).

But in any event, England is nowhere near running out of water, or rather, it wouldn't be except for the cowardice, venality and incompetence of its political leaders, who've been busily privatising the water system, selling off reservoirs to be paved over for housing, and not even bothering to think about tapping into the abundant supplies in the North, where it seldom stops raining. On top of that, a full one third of the water supplied to London is lost through unrepaired leaks in the 19th century mains. Now that said mains are in the hands of the privatised Thames Water company, the government can legitimately claim that it's not their problem, and it looks like Thames Water is about to be flogged off again, this time to the Chinese, and who knows what they'll do with it?

Meanwhile, I just took a peek out the window, and yes, it's still raining, and I just checked with the Environment Agency and yes, we're still having a drought.

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