What is Drought?

A drought can be defined as :-

  1. A long period of abnormally low rainfall, especially one that adversely affects growing or living conditions.
  2. A prolonged dearth or shortage

We would naturally expect to see an occasional drought after a long, hot summer. However in Sussex we suffer increasingly from unseasonal droughts when not enough rain falls at the right time of year. In winter 2011, a fraction of normal winter rainfall fell, leading to a spring drought and an early hosepipe ban.

People often ask how there can be a drought when it’s been raining all year? The answer is that Sussex is unique because most of our drinking water (over 70%) is pumped out from natural underground reservoirs called aquifers. Some of these natural reservoirs can take decades or centuries to refill once they have been emptied. So even though it is raining now, it can take a long time for the water to filter through the ground and top up the aquifers once we have emptied them.

The rest of our drinking water in Sussex is piped in from neighbouring counties, or drawn from reservoirs such as Arlington. Reservoirs rely on healthy river flows to be able to pump water out for human consumption. A lot of the summer flow in our rivers now come out of sewage treatment work outfalls!, and the rivers are often at low flows when we most need to pump water from them i.e. during a summer drought. Small reservoirs like Arlington hold just a few days supply of water, and if people are using a lot of water, this lasts even less time.

How can you help tackle drought?

You’ll be surprised to know that you can do a lot :-

  • Over 1 million people live in Sussex. If each person used 1 litre of water less per day, we could save over 400,000,000 litres a year!
  • You can save water in many different ways, but things like water butts, hippo’s in toilet cisterns and water efficiency devices on taps are some of the easiest.
  • Fix those dripping taps and leaking cisterns – It’s a bore but you could save 10,000 litres of water a year!
  • Buy less and use less – everything we use needs water to make it. Imagine how much it costs in water to grow some lettuce, package it and transport it to be stacked in a supermarket?
  • Don't used slug pellets with Methaldehyde in them or pour strong chemicals down the drain. Water companies struggle to take some of these chemicals out of the water once they are in it, making water unusable in some cases.
  • If you want to know more about how you can help tackle drought then visit your local water company site:

Southern Water

South East Water

Portsmouth Water