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8/21/2007

A summer of rain threatens to bring the great autumn floods


BRITAIN is facing a flooding timebomb this autumn and winter, with huge amounts of underground water stored up by incessant summer rain ready to burst out as floods the next time heavy rains return. The summer of rain has left saturated ground, which means any more downpours could cause huge volumes of water underground to burst out. Forecasters are predicting a wet autumn across much of Britain. If the soil dries out this autumn the danger could subside, but time is already running out — evaporation slows down as sunshine becomes weaker and trees and plants take less water from the ground. Aquifers in Britain hold at least 20 times more water than the reservoirs and provide about a third of the drinking water supplies, with a far higher proportion in South East England. The aquifers were recharged fully during the summer, safeguarding water supplies well into next year. But the saturated ground also means that parts of the country could be on flood alert throughout autumn and winter, with no chance for the ground to dry out until the spring. Rainfall for May-July was the WETTEST ON RECORD, dating back to 1767, across England and Wales. Soils are at their WETTEST ON RECORD for the summer, many rivers broke RECORDS FOR WATER FLOW in July. This summer’s floods, caused by heavy and broad bands of rain, were widespread. “This summer was UNPRECEDENTED. The wetness of the soils and the river flows in the lowlands of England are more typical of winter than summer. I’ve never seen anything like that before.” Usually the ground dries out during the summer as trees and plants soak up huge amounts of water. This summer the rains have been so heavy that the ground has been supersaturated, rivers have burst their banks and aquifers have been recharged. “The really strange thing is that the recharge happened in summer, when there is usually no recharge after April. All boreholes are at peak levels, which is INCREDIBLY UNUSUAL.” After a fraught summer, this could be a nerve-racking autumn and winter.
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