Water shortages even in Cornwall, with overtourism and waste

Stuart Parkin’s tiny lawn outside his home in Newquay, Cornwall, is manicured and a perfect dark green. On a mast floats proudly a large flag of the Union Jack. At the back, this retiree with a big enthusiastic smile organizes his little vegetable garden with the same meticulous care. “Don’t say it: I sometimes use my garden hose, otherwise it’s too long with a watering canhe confides, half-laughing, half-conspiratorial. But I am discreet. »

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Since August 2022, almost a year ago, residents of Cornwall, at the south-west tip of England, have been banned from using their garden hoses and washing their cars. On April 25, the rule was extended to most of Devon, the neighboring county. The Environment Agency declared this part of the UK officially drought-prone on August 12, 2022, and the alert has still not been lifted.

The winter was dry, with a month of February that broke records. And even though it was followed by a March that collected double the usual rainfall, the reservoirs in the region remain too low. The main one, in Colliford, is 70% full, compared to 91% in 2022 at the same time. Cost-saving measures imposed on residents should remain in place “until december”announced South West Water, the company that manages the local drinking water network.

“We waste so much”

A drought in Cornwall? However, the climate is humid. From 1991 to 2020, it rained one hundred and fifty-two days a year, with 905 millimeters of average precipitation. Last year was certainly a little drier (89% of average precipitation, with a particularly dry and hot summer), but the climate is far from extreme. Moreover, the hills which dominate the view from Mr. Parkin’s remain very green. And yet, in September 2022, the situation was so tense that the Colliford reservoir had sunk to 14% of its maximum level.

“It rains a lot, but we waste so much”, summarizes Malcolm Bell, of the tourist agency Visit Cornwall. For him, the problem comes from the company South West Water, which has not invested in the network for decades, from consumers, who are used to not thinking about their actions, and from tourists, constantly more demanding: “In houses rented out on Airbnb, it has become common to have Jacuzzis. We use drinking water for that and we have to change it every time a new resident comes, it’s madness. »

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