Could Drought Hamper London Olympics?

Concerns have arisen about water supply and possible restrictions to water usage to the London region as the Olympics get underway this summer after the government declared the region was officially suffering from a drought.

2012 Olympic Rings Unveiled at St Pancras International Station
Paul Gilham
2012 Olympic Rings Unveiled at St Pancras International Station

The UK’s Environment Agency (EA) issued the official drought status for London and the south east of England and said in a statement that “these areas are at risk of impacts from drought for spring summer 2012”.

Water levels are calculated by the environment agency on an annual basis, so the 12 months preceding a drought warning are significant.

The EA’s statement added: “The south east had low rainfall levels this autumn (Fall 2011).

Even if there is average rainfall, the drought conditions are unlikely to subside in 2012.” The Meteorological Office in London confirmed that rainfall for the region had been lower than average over the past few months.

Helen Chivers, spokeswoman for the Met Office told that rainfall for December and January had been lower than average and the forecast was also for little rain.

“It’s been a very dry winter and we’ve had very low rainfall throughout the year (2011). Spring 2011 was the warmest spring in the UK since records began in 1910. Since parts of the South East had only 20 percent of the expected rainfall, it’s been a cumulative effect,” Chivers said.

The average rainfall for the south east region in February should be 53.6 mm but there was just 19.5 mm of rain – 36 percent of what would be expected - and in March the average should be 59.7 mm.

The Met office, which forecasts ahead by 30 days, added that March was not forecast to get much rain.

Thames Water, which supplies the Olympic park and the London region with water, said that despite reservoirs being full, river groundwater levels were exceptionally low.

Richard Aylard, sustainability director at Thames Water said in a statement that the company was “preparing for the worst”.

“Our drought plan has recently been updated and we are working with the environment agency to ensure our customers receive the essential service this summer.” It added that there were specific contingencies in place for the Games, under which reservoirs could be tapped if needed so that the drought would not unduly hamper the Games.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) told that it was discussing the situation to ensure there was no adverse impact on the games.

“LOCOG is discussing with DEFRA (a government agency) and the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI), and water utility companies plans to ensure there are adequate supplies of water for venues at Games time for both field of play and provision for spectators,” a LOCOG statement said.

It added it would be reviewing its contingency plans to ensure all eventualities were covered in the event of a possible drought, but had been assured by that there will be enough supplies.