Drought fears after low winter rain levels

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The drought that has affected parts of England since June will last into next summer if there is insufficient winter rain, the Environment Agency has said.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman says water companies need to prepare now for the possibility.

Anglian Water has been granted a permit to pump water from the River Nene into one of its reservoirs on Thursday.

A lack of rainfall over the past few months means that groundwater levels are still falling in many areas.

The Environment Agency, which covers England and Wales, says that even if there is average rainfall over the winter and spring, parts of central, eastern and south-eastern England are unlikely to see a full recovery from drought conditions in 2012.

Trevor Bishop, head of water resources at the Environment Agency, told BBC News: "There are people putting up Christmas decorations in homes and businesses down the road and we're standing here in December talking about drought and that's an unusual situation.

"The ground below our feet is still dry, and at this time of year we would expect it to be fully saturated and the rainfall helping to replenish supplies, ready for next year."

Water companies in the worst-affected areas are having to use more river water to top up reservoirs that should really be seeing far more rain at the moment.

Drought risk map

Drought risk map (Environment Agency)

PDF download See areas most at risk of drought[376k]

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Anglian Water has been granted permission to pump up to 17 million litres a day until next March into its Pitsford Reservoir, which supplies around 600,000 customers in the Northampton area.

South East Water has applied to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to increase the amount of water it abstracts from the River Ouse.

It says it has carried out comprehensive environmental studies to make sure any impacts on the river are minimised.

Lee Dance from South East water said: "Faced with a worsening drought situation, and with no sign of significant rainfall, and customer demand for water continuing - it is vital we take immediate steps to protect Ardingly Reservoir and our customers' water supplies."

The government says water companies, businesses, farmers and the public in the areas that have seen the driest conditions need to plan now for next summer.

"This is a signal for everyone to get prepared, that if we don't get good rainfall this winter it will be a challenge next spring and summer," warned Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman.

The Environment Agency will carry out a further assessment on the likelihood of a continuing drought early next year.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency said Scotland had had plenty of rain in recent months and were not expecting any problems.

Northern Ireland Water said their reservoir levels were "satisfactory for this time of year" and they had no concerns.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    Privatisation of utilities requires an infrastructure of regulations, and we don't have it right yet.

    For water supplies, we need regulations that will severely penalise a company that fails regardless of excuses like natural drought, to encourage the companies to build the necessary infrastructure.

    Further regulations should provide for confiscation of any company that fails.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    So too much rain in the east causing flooding and drought in the west. Sounds fairly straight forward to me; if this is going to be a pattern of weather to come why not build infrastructure to channel the flood waters to the reservoirs in the west? That way you'd solve the flooding and the drought at the same time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    All water usage should be metered, then people would pay for what they use, and realise how much it really costs, and how much they waste.

    As said previously there is too much frivalous use of water, such as swimming pools, hot tubs, garden sprinklers - often used by consumers who don't have water meters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    Put everyone on a water meter, then that will make people think twice about how much they use. It's also cheaper on average. My metered water bill is a third less than what I was paying.

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    Goes to reinforce the scientific fact that this country has too many people to be supported comfortably with the standard of living we expect employing the level technology people want to afford.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    Perhaps all the money has been spent preparing for snow!

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    Abstracts from the river Ouse??
    Apart from that too many people in the UK

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    1. Rainwater harvesting systems should be encouraged using a Feed-in-tariff mechanism.
    2. We need a national grid to distribute water around the UK (pumping between reservoirs overnight).

    Both of these mechanisms should be used. They are complimentary (so rain water FiT only makes sense with UK water distribution).

    3. Also water meters should be mandatory by retrofit before 2020.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    215 IndaUK
    Wrong sort of water. I don't know which bit of the UK you live in but here in the East we are definitely short of water (as usual) with the soil blowing off the fields if it's really windy. It rains but not enough to fill our reservoirs, or it rains in the wrong place (western England and Wales)

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    For years the water companies have been taking our money and doing nothing to preserve water supplies. We need a body in charge to make them stop letting water run out to sea during heavy rain. York, is a prime example. The water rises at least 15ft in heavy rain. STORE IT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    If the Romans were still in charge they would have built an aqueduct to bring water from Scotland to Dover and all points between.
    Seriously, though, a canal system to do just that is feasible and a no-brainer.
    Think of what else it would bring: the jobs; eco-kindly narrowboat transport; new wetlands for wildlife; and a tourism boost.
    Where is a Brunel when you need him?

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    A solution is probably to get Clarkson to bring tears to peoples eyes from his comments that "offend" ridiculous numpty PC Gestapo muppets, then tears can be collected & put into water system, once salt removed.

    Other than that, they could get Clarkson to run on an exercise machine & collect the sweat, 5 mins should be enough to fill a dozen swimming pools

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    Immediately after privatisation several water boards closed and emptied reservoirs and then sold the land off for housing.

    With population very near to 80 million all ready (don't believe the govt figures) is it any surprise that there are not enough resources !

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    English dictionary definition of drought is "prolonged shortage of rainfall", its raining hard outside right now!
    I think the real problem here is there are too many people for the limited natural resources in our over crowded island.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    I was shocked when to England and they where saying the is a drought, the was in 2 places water running down the road from burst water pipes, after reporting this they side they can not do anything for at least a week, so there go's gallons of water and there is my friend saving every drop, and food crops suffering. So England real needs to get there water priority's strata.

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    First time in 20 years, so I presume it was dry 21 years ago then? Global warming has nothing to do with it, or maybe my three years studying Quaternary climates was all wrong!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    There's plenty of water around here. How do I know? I look at all the sand quaries nearby that have been filled up. Those jet-skiiers, wind surfers and fishermen sure do look like they're having a good time on their 140 lakes.


  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    we can't have the people in the south short of water for their hot tubs, swimming pools and water for washing the BMW.

    Kent, where there is very little rain has some of the most economically deprived areas of the uk. I cant afford to own a car. When I go to some parts of the country that wear poverty as a badge of honour, I never see a car older than two years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    Seriouly, drought in the UK! An African reading this headline can seat back laugh,contemplate and wonder, what are the water companies and treatment plants up to provided the technology and resource at hand ,i thought they are responsible for putting up counter measures and regulations to ensure future availablity of water reservoirs for usage

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    Stupid NRA (now EA) dig through clay springs to dry wetlands to sell for housing! People build on flood plains and improve drainage to reduce interception! Now we have fairly constant overland flow, nothing to do with how many showers we have, it should all go back in the cycle!


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