Changing lifestyles in response to the effects of climate change

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Consumers should adapt their behavior to try to save water during persistent dry weather, according to academics at Cranfield University.

Limiting the length of the shower or the amount of shower water, not leaving the taps running, and installing water-saving devices (which many water companies provide for free) are all effective ways to make a difference.

Some commentators have recently speculated that the UK will experience drought conditions similar to those in 1976, but Professor Ian Holman, Head of the Center for Water, Environment and Development at Cranfield University, said this was not necessarily the case due to the difference in conditions leading up to the summer of 1976.

“The drought of 1976 was the culmination of nearly two very dry years. The levels of rivers, groundwater and reservoirs in the spring of 1976 were much lower than they were at the same time this year. So, while this year the dry and hot weather has been similar to the effects on our gardens and agriculture, The water resources of much of the Midlands, southern and eastern England began from conditions which were almost normal at that time of year.”

He added: “Compared to 1976, our water supply infrastructure is also better prepared – in particular, the supply networks are better interconnected than they were in the 1970s, allowing water to be moved more easily to where it is needed.

“Many farmers who water their crops have set up on-farm reservoirs since the drought of 1976, filling them with rivers and aquifers during the winter. However, because the country tends to be affected less by drought than by floods, water availability is often reduced. Take it for granted and that means there is no culture of saving water as much as possible.”

Professor Holman added that climate change projections showed that there was an increased risk of extreme weather events such as droughts and heat waves over time, and that regardless of droughts, “individuals and society should aim to use water as efficiently as possible”.

“We need to recognize that water is a precious and scarce natural resource,” he said. “We can also make better use of water resources by reducing seepage and increasing the amount that can be stored in the winter for use in the summer. This can be in encouraging homeowners to install water buttons; providing financial support for farmers to invest in – the farm’s winter storage tanks; or Water companies to invest in new reservoirs.

Tim Hess, professor of water and food systems at Cranfield University, explained how a potential drought could affect crops and food preparation.

“We had a very dry period towards the end of last year as well as this summer, which means less rainfall. So you have a situation where the soil is very dry and the crops are running out of water, which means lower crop yields that are particularly worrying at a time when we know that grain prices are High.

“For ranchers, we have less grass planted which means they have to buy more fodder – something more expensive than usual.

“The outlook for us is to experience drier summers with longer dry periods between rainfall events, so we need to be able to adapt so that we can deal with these changing weather conditions.”

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Presented by Cranfield University

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