Early drought

Europe is suffering from extremely early spring drought. And again, as every year, our water use is back on the agenda. And it should be: water availability might become one of our society’s biggest problems. In fact, it already is: a Flemish municipality already had no water coming out of the tap at all, with even the firefighters getting in trouble to put out fires.

An extreme case, but it should serve as a warning: here in Flanders the water management is still focussed on the idea that the region is getting TOO MUCH rain. Let me tell you, if it ever was true, it is not anymore. We should stop managing our land to get rainwater removed as fast as possible. And, importantly, we should get rid of this attitude that water is an endless resource, and react surprised when we run out of it. Drought is our future, and we should all adapt our mindsets to this.

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Our cities are concrete jungles where rain water is supposed to run off into the drainage system as fast as possible. Here: a non-native Buddleja next to the A12 highway, Flanders

The impact of this dry weather can be seen clearly in the trial of our drought- and heat citizen science project, running in my garden (see figure).

Drought

The current drought spell is already drying out lawns since early April, with only two little showers and one rain spell to reduce the losses. The problem is that it is still so early in the summer season and already soil moisture levels dropped extremely low. As you can see by the rainy days beginning of May, we will need more than a week of continuous raining to get the lawn water back on track. While soil moisture in the cool and shadowy spot under the shrubs (blue line) was holding on till early May, the flushing leaves of the shrubs now brings down the moisture even faster. Plants are needing all the water they can get, and not much is coming in to compensate.

And there is no salvation on the horizon: there seems to be another ten days of little rain on the way, draining the lawns even more. You might want to brace for dry lawns in summer. Don’t worry about those, though, lawns are resilient and very often grow back!

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