To protect their summer tournament from the rain, the All England Club built a retractable roof over Centre Court. Now Wimbledon’s Head Groundsman and his staff are having to contend with the problem of not enough rain – water levels are so low, after two particularly dry winters, that a hose-pipe ban has been introduced in southern England.
Given that Eddie Seaward and his team could use up to 20,000 litres of water per day on the 41 grass courts, and the quality of the playing surface is a major part of the success of The Championships, you can understand why the All England Club have been taking an interest in levels of reservoirs and rivers.
While Wimbledon has a special exemption from water company Thames Water for the grass courts, that does not cover the other lawns in the venue such as Aorangi Terrace (Henman Hill), the car parks and the Competitors’ Lawn. And that special exemption might not hold, Seaward said, if the water shortage worsens.
One contingency plan, to avoid the possibility of Centre Court turning into a dust bowl, is to import water from outside the Thames Valley, from areas where there is plenty. With Centre Court and the other courts to be used for two competitions this summer, for The Championships and then for the Olympics, there is added pressure on Seaward and his team as they strive for perfect lawns.
For now, Seaward is not concerned about the water levels. But there is the chance that his last summer at the Club – he has been looking after the greensward for more than 20 years and he will retire from his position once the Olympic rings have left town – will be the most challenging period in the job.
Come June, Seaward could find himself having to import water which will be no easy task.
“This doesn’t affect the courts at the moment, but it might in time, depending on how much the water shortage bites. Initially, they are saying that we’ve got an exemption for the courts, but not for the other lawns or anything else. We will have to let those go. That’s just socially responsible. Henman Hill and the car parks, we will have to just let them go, unless we can import water from an area where there is plenty,” said Seaward, standing in the spring sunshine on Centre Court.
“We have an exemption now but I don’t know what the situation will be in June or July if there is a real water shortage. It depends on the weather. In 2006, we had the possibility of a hosepipe ban but it didn’t materialise. As we did then, however, we will reduce water consumption wherever possible and concentrate on using only the absolute minimum in essential areas. I’m not concerned at the moment.”