Banishing brown lawns.
Brown lawns and wilting flowers could soon be a thing of the past, even in the driest of summers, thanks to a collaboration between the University of Bradford and a Yorkshire-based plastics company. T&D Plastech approached scientists at Bradford to examine the practical issues of producing and marketing large plastic water butts to collect rainwater from house roofs, which could then be used to irrigate gardens. "Hose-pipe bans during the 1995-96 drought meant that people's gardens -- in which they had often invested thousands of pounds -- were threatened," says Dr John Dennis, industrial coordinator at the university's Department of Environmental Science. "The idea of combating the problem by storing rainwater in a large water butt seems simple enough, but its success depends on detailed calculations of supply and demand," he adds.
His team has drawn up a map showing the storage capacity needed for each square metre of irrigated garden in different parts of the country. The biggest demand, they calculate, is in southeast England, especially the Isle of Wight, Kent and East Anglia. In the wetter and cooler north and west of the country, water storage containers are likely to be needed only "where water companies have problems in providing supplies".
The calculations are based on a very pessimistic set of assumptions, explains the project's geographer Dr David Cotton: "If you follow our guidelines, I would give you odds of 100:1 that you would not run out of water more than one year in 20." An average house and garden would need a plastic butt of about five cubic metres--or a quarter of the size of a small office. When full, such a butt would weigh five tonnes. "It would not meet all a gardener's irrigation needs in the most severe droughts," says Cotton, "but it would certainly take the edge off the problem."