HL Deb 26 January 1989 vol 503 cc820-1

3.11 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford asked Her Majesty's Government:

How groundwater levels and storage reservoir levels on 1st January 1989 compared with normal levels.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, in most areas of England and Wales groundwater and storage reservoir levels were close to normal in early January. However, in the drier southern half of the country they tended to be slightly below normal for the time of year.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that relatively reassuring Answer. My impression is that in some areas the levels are significantly below normal? Is he aware that we have had a very dry January? Is he further aware that if we have a further couple of months of dry weather in February and March that will be the end of the storage period? After that, the rising temperatures and the respiration of plants mean that levels begin to drop. If we have a long, dry summer we should then have shortage difficulties.

Are my noble friend and his advisers taking a view of the national position when considering the trend of rainfall this winter? Are they making contingency plans in case we find ourselves in the spring with dangerously low levels which would necessitate special measures to keep the water supply continuing in summer months?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, my noble friend, who has very considerable experience in this industry, is quite correct. The months of November and December were exceptionally dry, particularly in southern areas. The total rainfall during those months over England and Wales as a whole was only half the long-term average. In the Southern Wessex and Thames Water Authority areas it was less than one third of the average.

With regard to the month of January, yes, so far there has been below average rainfall. However, we have as yet only limited data available. At present there is no cause for concern. Much depends upon the rainfall during the remainder of the winter and in the spring. In the meantime water authorities will be closely monitoring the situation.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, will my noble friend inform the House whether the snowfall in the upper higher hills has been adequate? In my part of the world—in Angus, and other parts of Scotland—is it not a fact that a certain amount of July-August water depends on the melting of the snows! It is not only the rainfall. Is there an adequate snowfall at the moment to provide the future water?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I believe that my noble friend is quite correct in saying that there has been less than average snowfall. However, on average, about half the total rainfall over England and Wales is lost in evaporation. Most of this occurs during the summer resulting in relatively little run-off and recharge of aquafers during these months. Replenishment of reservoirs and aquafers takes place mostly during the winter months when evaporation losses are small. Winter rainfall is therefore of significant importance.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, since the Government are promoting the Water Bill as a universal blessing to mankind, will they put down amendments in the Bill to abolish drought?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, it would be a matter of speculation as to whether a drought occurs. But the provisions of the Water Bill at present before Parliament in another place will enable the director general to protect the interests of consumers by ensuring that adequate water resources are provided.