Environment Agency urges Britons to ‘use water wisely’ as early stages of drought plans enacted

·2-min read

Britons have been urged to use water “wisely” as most of England is in a period of “prolonged dry weather” and the early stages of drought.

The warning came after the National Drought Group held an out-of-the-ordinary meeting on Tuesday amid concern that a drought could be announced in the coming weeks if hot, dry weather persists.

The call comes after the UK topped 40C for the first time, and as the Met Office is forecasting potentially several more dry weeks ahead, particularly in the south and east of the country. Last week wildfires tore through parts of England, as firefighters warned the hot weather and lack of rain had left the country tinder dry.

The UK was hit with record 40C temperatures earlier this month (EPA)
The UK was hit with record 40C temperatures earlier this month (EPA)

Harvey Bradshaw, Environment Agency executive director for the environment and chair of the NDG, said there were currently no plans for restrictions on essential water use and that environment agency teams were enacting the early stages of drought plans in many parts of England to protect people’s access to water and preserve the environment.

The National Drought Group is not a decision-making body but brings together groups that could make decisions to enact restrictions on water use in parts of the UK including the Environment Agency, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and water companies.

The group usually meets twice yearly in spring and autumn to assess the water resource situation ahead and any risks to water supply and the environment. It last met in March ahead of the spring/summer season and is planned to meet in October this year ahead of the winter season.

Stuart Colville, director of policy for Water UK the industry body, said the ongoing warm weather in the country followed the “driest winter and spring since the Seventies”.

The Thruscross reservoir was left partially depleted in the heatwave (Getty)
The Thruscross reservoir was left partially depleted in the heatwave (Getty)

He pointed to the Water’s Worth Saving campaign that gives households tips to save water such as turning the tap off when brushing your teeth, or swapping a bath for a short shower, and fixing dripping taps.

There are four states of drought in the UK: prolonged dry weather, drought, severe drought and recovering drought.

Nowhere in England is currently considered to be in drought, but most of England has moved into the prolonged dry weather status.

Firefighters attend a gorse bush fire near Zennor, Cornwall (Reuters)
Firefighters attend a gorse bush fire near Zennor, Cornwall (Reuters)

If further restrictions, such as hosepipe bans, are needed these will be determined by individual water companies. After an “exceptional shortage of rain”, the Environment Agency has applied for a drought order for the Holme Styes reservoir in Holmfirth, Yorkshire to protect wildlife.

Southern Water has also applied for a drought permit for the River Test in Southampton, Hampshire, due to falling water levels, which could see it bring in hosepipe bans.

Global heating is forecast to lead to more pronounced drier spells in the summer. Projections show that, by 2050, some rivers could have between 50 and 80 per cent less water during the summer and summer temperatures are set to be up to 7.4C hotter, the Environment Agency said.

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