English Drought In February - Does Permaculture Offer Any Solutions?

Tony Rollinson
Tuesday, 21st February 2012

This week, in the middle of February, whole areas of southern England have been declared as being in a state of drought. As ever, we here at Permaculture magazine are engaged with what we can each do right now and below we highlight a few ways to respond positively to what is a growing international concern. We also quote the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, the independent professional body and a registered charity, advancing the science and practice of water and environmental management for a clean, green and sustainable world.

"Permaculture design can help you not only save water but need less of it," says Maddy Harland, the Editor of Permaculture Magazine. ~"By using techniques like mulching we prevent water evaporating from the soil. By planting robust native species, self-seeding edibles and planting in 'guilds', we mimic nature and create healthier more robust gardens."

In the current issue of the magazine, Permaculture 71, there is an article about how to treat your own wastewater, and in most of the back issues there are examples and solutions that you can readily adopt around your own home and garden.

Maddy continues: "Add greywater and rainwater harvesting to any house, garden or farm design, and sensible technologies like spray taps, low flush toilets, and waterless composting toilets, and you can not only save water but also save money if you are metred, plus your plants will grow better using mulched systems and rainwater."

Drought Management Measures

One influential group, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), welcomes this week's drought summit, but warns against knee-jerk calls for new large scale water infrastructure, instead emphasising the importance of effective and timely drought management measures coupled with longer-term investment in widespread metering, water efficiency measures and a more sustainable approach to the planning of development in water stressed parts of the country.

CIWEM believes that people should not expect an unlimited supply of water at all times, and that restrictions on water use such as temporary bans are part of a sensible range of measures that water companies should take during times of drought. They think it is important that restrictions on water use for non-essential purposes (appropriate to the level of drought severity) must be considered early in a drought, as a sensible way of reducing the demand for water to reduce the likelihood of more serious impacts on the environment or further restrictions on water supply.

Raise Awareness and Educate

CIWEM is concerned that people throughout the UK are insufficiently aware both of the possible impact of drought and the measures that they can take to help to reduce its effect. Understandably, water suppliers are reluctant to alarm their customers but it is important to understand that there can be a genuine risk to water supply. CIWEM believes that recent (2006) experience in south east England demonstrates that when engaged, people do accept that drought is a natural hazard even in the UK. The importance of this understanding will grow as the effects of climate change become more apparent – which may include the incidence of more regular and severe droughts.

Longer-term, CIWEM emphasises the importance of accurate measurement of water use by all users, coupled with widespread utilisation of water efficient appliances, less wasteful water use behaviour and a more integrated way of managing water to make better use of it when in surplus through storage at all scales.

CIWEM Executive Director, Nick Reeves OBE, says: “It is not as though we haven’t been warned. There is a vast body of evidence on climate change and its contribution to water stress is made worse by rising demand. The current drought conditions are yet another wake-up call for more urgent action on water efficiency, water metering and retro-fitting of water-saving devices. Public attitudes to water have got to change and the government must afford water a much higher priority in the planning of future developments, especially in water-stressed areas of the country.”