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Drought has Oslo on edge of critical water shortage

The Norwegian capital saw only half an inch of rain in March and April, less than 15% of normal for the period.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (CN) — It's not often residents in Norway’s capital Oslo receives text messages from the city asking for help, but that is what happened Monday.

“Dear Oslo! Right now, we have less water than usual, and we need your support to save water! Do short showers, close the tap when brushing your teeth and avoid watering your lawns. Do it for Oslo, so we can continue using water for the most important tasks in our lives,” said the text message from Oslo municipality to its residents accompanied with a link to a guide on how to lower water usage.

Governing Mayor Raymond Johansen said residents can look forward to a comprehensive information package from the city very soon.

“We are used to consuming a lot of water. Even when we read about people reducing their bathing time from 30 to 20 minutes, I still do not believe we are where we are supposed to be,” Johansen told Avisa Oslo. “Our task is to raise awareness about the water, which we have been overusing, and for a period is a commodity we must be careful with”, he said.

What concrete information the new package will consist of is something that will be elaborated on soon, Johansen said. But it is vital that Oslo residents be more aware of the situation concerning lack of water. Especially because residents have yet to understand the seriousness of the situation, he said.

“It is not something we think about when we wake up every morning, me included. We are not used to this. But if we continue to have periods with little rain, the situation will become very critical,” Johansen said.

Norway has been experiencing drought for half a year. Little rain and snowmelt and an unmodified consumption of water have reduced the water level in Lake Maridal from 88% of normal to 69%. Maridal is the largest lake in Oslo and serves the main drinking water supply for the city.

If the drought continues the situation can turn critical according to Frode Hult, section leader of Oslo's water and sewerage department.

“We have four levels of action, and right now we are on level one. Level two will be when the water level is down to 61%. It is not plausible that this will happen before late summer, but if people follow our recommendations, we might be able to hinder more initiatives,” Hult told Avisa Oslo. “We do not have a crisis now, but it will turn into one if the drought continues and we remain passive.”

Norway’s meteorological institute recorded just over a half inch of rain in March and April. Normal rainfall for that timeframe is 3.35 inches.

“It has been extremely dry. There have never been measured such low numbers of rainfall in March and April in Oslo,” Bente Wahl from Norway’s meteorological institute said.

The city asked residents for help lowering their water consumption for the first time in January.

“Our water reservoirs, which are connected to Lake Maridal, have reached a relatively low level. To hinder water shortage in the future, we deem it necessary to ask Oslo residents to think about their water use,” said Anna Maria Aursund, director of Oslo’s water and sewerage authority in a press release.  

The drought comes as municipalities around Oslo have begun repairs at reservoirs in bad condition as required under Norwegian law.

The water usage amount has not been reduced significantly since Oslo's first request to its 700.000 residents.

Courthouse News correspondent Lasse Sørensen is based in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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