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Reservoirs Drying Up 5 October 2003

The Isle of Man Water Authority has appealed for the cooperation of the public as the Island's water supplies are getting vulnerably low.

The Authority is asking its customers to think carefully about their usual water consumption and make some sensible adjustments to their daily routine to conserve water. Such measures might include:

  • Taking a shower instead of a bath, saving an average of 15 gallons per shower.
  • Using a glass of water instead of running the tap each time you brush your teeth, as leaving the tap running can waste almost 9 litres a minute.
  • Turning your tap off properly after washing your hands. A dripping tap wastes 30 drops of water per minute and 84 gallons per month - this equates to 1,008 gallons per year!
  • Using a plug in the sink or a bowl for jobs such as washing or preparing vegetables. This will save up to 23 litres per day.
  • Not using your hosepipe. If you really need to clean your car or water the garden, please use a bucket and sponge or a watering can.

This move has been prompted by the latest shocking statistics recorded regarding the current water levels in the Island's reservoirs, which combined with the long term weather forecast from the Ronaldsway Met Office that predicts very little rain, offers the Authority very little comfort for the coming few months.

Current Reservoir Raw Water Levels:

  • West Baldwin, 29% full, 23 days supply
  • Ballure, 75% full, 30 days supply
  • Clypse, 8% full, stopped taking water - too dirty and smelly
  • Kerrowdhoo, 9% full, stopped taking water - too dirty and smelly
  • Cringle, 14% full, 11 days supply
  • Sulby, 74% full, 808 days supply

Water Authority Chief Executive, Patrick Heaton Armstrong comments,

"It's been an excellent summer with many long hours of enjoyable sunshine. However, in terms of rainfall it's been well below average - it was exceptionally dry throughout August and September."

"There was only 8mm of rainfall at West Baldwin and 4mm at Ballagawne in August against long term averages of 123mm and 82mm respectively. September proved to be slightly better, but there was only 50% of the long term average rainfall. At West Baldwin there was 62mm out of a long term average of 141mm and at Ballagawne it was 40mm out of 94mm."

"With substantially less than average rainfall this year, a significant 'soil moisture deficit' has built up. It will take the first 100mm to 150mm of rainfall to overcome this deficit, which means that the reservoirs are not likely to be replenished very quickly."

Both pumps at Sulby Dam have been continuously running since early September to deliver approximately 13 million litres per day to West Baldwin Reservoir. Without these pumps West Baldwin Reservoir would now be empty.

The continuing dry weather has had a dramatic effect on the average daily water consumption. In 1997 consumption was 28.2 million litres per day but this dropped steadily year by year down to 23.8 million litres per day in 2001 due to good leakage detection and better management of the system. However in 2002 it climbed back up to 26.2 million litres per day and so far this year it is running at a level of 28.8 million litres per day - that equates to a 21% increase in just 3 years.

Over the last few weeks, the Authority has received an increasing number of complaints regarding water quality. Most customers are concerned about their water being discoloured, but there have also been some 'earthy taste' complaints. The exact reason behind the complaints is not immediately obvious, however the Authority believes that it is probably due to the deposits of iron, aluminium and manganese oxides in the invert of the main being stirred up by unusually high flows. However, the low water levels in the reservoirs and the deteriorating quality of the raw water that is drawn into supply could also be contributing to the number of complaints received.

Mr Heaton-Armstrong continued,

"Our customers must be reassured that none of these substances are injurious to health although we do recognise that it makes the water unpalatable from time to time."

The quality of the water leaving the water treatment works is as good as can reasonably be expected for a single stage filtration plant, which is now 70 years old. Its age and configuration means that it cannot remove these oxide substances, but the proposed new works for Douglas will be a multi stage works capable of removing all these unwanted substances. The Authority was refused planning permission in February this year, so it has had to go back to the drawing board on the matter of site selection and design. A new planning application will be lodged soon, but the new works won't be commissioned until at least 2006.

Mr Heaton-Armstrong continued,

"We would normally open up hydrants in the area to flush out the discoloured water and hopefully alleviate customer complaints about water quality. However, we believe that this may exacerbate an already difficult situation, so we must wait for these deposits to settle down again until we can undertake a proper controlled flushing programme at a time when our raw water resources have been replenished and the demand for water is not so high."

"Our current situation is beginning to look very serious and as such we are now investigating various measures which were last put in place in the drought of 1995, such as pumping extra water out of the rivers."

"During the next few days our 'Save Water' campaign will become more visible and proactive and we hope that our customers will respond positively to our appeal to preserve our stocks of water - we could run out of water if they don't."

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