Long term warning as drought spreads

Posted: Wednesday 16th May 2012

People and businesses urged to use water wisely as Environment Agency warns drought could last beyond Christmas.

As many as seventeen counties in South West England and the Midlands have been in official drought status, after two dry winters have left rivers and ground waters depleted. While public water supplies in these areas are unlikely to be affected, the lack of rain is taking its toll on the environment and farmers – causing problems for wildlife, wetlands and crop production. The Environment Agency is urging businesses, water companies and consumers to all play their part by using water wisely, to help conserve precious water supplies. And, despite the recent rain, and the lifting of some drought orders, the situation remains bleak.

In the Midlands the Environment Agency has rescued fish from the River Lathkill in Derbyshire after it dried up, and the Rivers Tern, Sow, Soar and Leadon reached their lowest ever recorded levels in March. In the South West rivers are also suffering and nationally important chalk streams, such as the Hampshire Avon and the Dorset Stour, which support rare trout and salmon species, are exceptionally low.

Last beyond Christmas?

The news comes as the Environment Agency warned that the drought could last beyond Christmas. While rain over the spring and summer will help to water crops and gardens, it is unlikely to improve the underlying drought situation. It was hoped that a prolonged period of rainfall between October and March – known as the winter recharge period – would prevent widespread drought, but parts of England received less than 60 per cent of the average winter rainfall, and water supplies have not been replenished.

Experts are now hoping for a steady rainy winter in 2012/13 to restore rivers and groundwaters, but the Environment Agency is working with the water industry to put plans in place now to deal with the prospect of a third dry winter. Water companies are looking at where they may be able to get more water, options to share water across company boundaries and how they can reduce leakage further. The Agency is urging all water users to save water now, to help prevent more serious shortages and environmental impacts next year.

Trevor Bishop, Head of Water Resources at the Environment Agency, said:

'A longer term drought, lasting until Christmas and perhaps beyond, now looks more likely – and we are working with businesses, farmers and water companies to plan ahead to meet the challenges of a continued drought.

'While we’ve had some welcome rain recently, the problem has not gone away, and we would urge everyone – right across the country – to use water wisely now, which will help to prevent more serious impacts next year.'

Wildlife at risk

The Environment Agency recently called on businesses to join householders in saving water, and is continuing to press water companies to demonstrate that they have stepped up their publicity campaigns to encourage people and businesses to conserve water and have taken measures to increase leakage detection.

The Environment Agency is preparing for an increase in environmental incidents where wildlife is at risk over the summer by stepping up river monitoring and increasing its supplies of water aeration and fish rescue equipment.

The Environment Agency is also working to help farmers top up their storage reservoirs, to ensure there are better supplies for the summer months. It has introduced a fast track process for farmers to apply to take additional water when river flows are high, and continues to be as flexible as possible around existing regulations to help farmers, who suffer significant impacts in times of drought.

Important wildlife sites are also being helped as the Environment Agency announced new measures to help protect nationally important sites.




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