South East latest part of England officially in drought


Aerial footage of shrinking reservoirs

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Much of southern and eastern England is officially in a state of drought, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced.

The announcement came as Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman hosted a drought summit.

In parts of south-east England groundwater levels are lower than in the infamously dry summer of 1976.

Water companies are ready to bring in hosepipe bans from early spring, where necessary, Defra says.

The firms have agreed measures to reduce the environmental impact of dry conditions, including reducing water losses and improving leak detection, as well as encouraging customers to save water.

The Environment Agency will also take steps such as monitoring the impact of the dry weather on fisheries and wildlife.

Ms Spelman said after the summit: "Drought is already an issue this year with the South East, Anglia and other parts of the UK now officially in drought, and more areas are likely to be affected as we continue to experience a prolonged period of very low rainfall.

'Use less'

"It is not just the responsibility of government, water companies and businesses to act against drought.

"We are asking for the help of everyone by urging them to use less water and to start now."

Places in drought

  • Lincolnshire
  • Cambridgeshire
  • Hampshire
  • West Sussex
  • East Sussex
  • Kent
  • London
  • Surrey
  • Berkshire
  • Hertfordshire
  • Buckinghamshire
  • Oxfordshire
  • parts of Bedfordshire
  • parts of Northamptonshire
  • west Norfolk
  • east Gloucestershire

Source: Defra

Mary Creagh, Labour's shadow environment secretary, described the drought summit as being "more talk and no action".

"The Tory-led government is out of touch with the pressures facing families - the fact that it has postponed its long-awaited Water Bill means that there will be no action to tackle unsustainable water usage or to help households facing rising water bills for at least another two years," she said.

Water companies, farmers and wildlife groups were invited to discuss the situation at the summit.

Thames Water's sustainability director Richard Aylard said: "There is a high chance we will need restrictions at some stage this summer unless either we get a lot of rain or fantastic co-operation from customers using less water."

He urged people to turn off taps while cleaning their teeth, take shorter showers, fix leaks and only wash laundry with a full load.

The South East joins parts of eastern England which have been in a drought situation since last summer.

That contrasts markedly with Scotland, where reservoirs are between 93% and 97% full.

Ms Spelman said she wanted water companies to look at the possibility of connecting pipe networks so they could transfer water from wetter areas.

Severn Trent's water director, Andy Smith, said each water company had tended to focus on its own area.

"We should be looking at interconnecting the networks between the various water companies.

Low river levels

"There will be opportunities with relatively small levels of investment to make inter-connections between different organisations to try and get the water from the north and the west where it's relatively wet down to the south and the east."

The lack of rain, over the course of two dry winters, appeared to be continuing last month.

South-east England received just two-thirds of the long-term average rainfall for January.

Rainfall has been below average for 18 of the last 23 months in the Thames Valley region and London.

Flows in the River Lee, which passes through Hertfordshire and parts of north-east London, are at less than a quarter of the long-term average for the waterway.

And the Kennet, in Wiltshire, has seen flows of just 31% of its average levels.

The river has dried up completely to the west of Marlborough.

Meanwhile, the Darent, in Kent, is at extremely low levels, as is the Wye in Surrey.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Apparently it is too difficult to pipe water 100 miles. Maybe we should ask our Victorian forefathers how to do it . Manchester still gets its water from the Lake District. They built two lakes Thirlmere and Haweswater and piped the water 96 miles, all without modern pumping and drilling equipment. Surely.......

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Seawater isn't the answer - it's SALTY! Desalination has a huge cost in money & polution & carbon footprint.

    Pipelines would be hugely expensive to build & too expensive to pump billions of gallons or water across country.

    UK climate is so changeable that either could be rendered useless next year if the drought move to the Wales or elsewhere.

    The answer is better management of current usage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    24. TBailey
    @ReallyReal, as I noted desalinating requires lots of energy, the authorities lack the intelligence to connect the project of building off-shore wave generators and wind farms to power this"

    You don't seem to appreciate the huge cost involved, and also the massive, urgent, need for more energy sources for our existing needs, without producing more energy needs!

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Surely this is good news for all those people who can't get insurance because of the risk of flooding.


  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    We live in a country surrounded by water!!!
    Pump the water from the English Channel, North Sea and Irish Sea......take the salt out the water by desalination......pump it then to reservoirs and allow Joe Blogs to have a glass of water for his teeth at the side of his bed.....we are living on an island are we not. Common sense really

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    I hope all those people suggesting we use sea water are aware of the salinity issue and that desalination would be required before it could be used... desalination requires a lot of energy and is therefore expensive - not to mention the additional CO2 emissions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Never mind - the government has the Climate Change Act to fall back on - presumably along with the ability to create winds which blow 24/7 at precisely the right speed to power all those wind turbines, this Act will have the ability to rain sufficiently to fill the reservoirs, but not to cause inconvenient floods...

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    And are the water companies profit levels still rising?

    This was a situation everyone knew about before privatisation and if the great panacea of competition in the market place can't solve it, then what will - a hose pipe ban?

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Personally i see this as a rain dance. Because in england if ever you say it hasn't rained for a while it immediately does!:-)
    But seriously this is an inevitable consequence of privatisation. No big plan, no national interest. Just self interest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I've just had the misfortune of having to drive down and stay in London for a night. Now, safely back in north west England and looking out over the green hills clouded with drizzle, I can't for the life of me work out why anyone would want to live in that God forsaken part of the country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Desalination? Are you mad?

    Not only does it send pence per litre pricing sky rocketing it will sap what little energy we have in the national grid! You're just solving the water crisis by making the energy crisis that much worse. Completely flawed logic there!

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    There are too many people in the South East, that's the truth.

    Answer - relocate as many Government jobs as possible to the North, because the quality of living there is far better anyway. The cost of living is much cheaper, the people are more community minded and the Government could save money by not paying London allowances.


  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    What happened to Peckham Springs?

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I know this river that when I was a boy it was a foot higher,the river used to flood the meadows each year providing an rich habitat for lapwings, birds etc,sadly now all the wildlife is gone,the thing is that there used to be marshlands and swamps that used to drip feed rivers but the farmers got rid of them, so now the water flows directly to the the sea,farmers landowners water companies,sad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    One quarter of all water "used" in London is wasted by leaking out of faulty pipes. ONE QUARTER!

    Fix even half of those leaks and the problem will be sorted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    @ReallyReal, as I noted desalinating requires lots of energy, the authorities lack the intelligence to connect the project of building off-shore wave generators and wind farms to power this, potential energy in abundance. Moreover, it would cost an initial investment but long term cause prices for consumers to go down. Building plants and running them also would CREATE LOADS of jobs in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    "I think building desalination is sensible for any nation"

    I do not disagree with you, my intent was only to show that desalination plant was not as easy an answer as some would think because of its power demand. If a project was put forward then hopefully the drawbacks would be minimised in the best way possible. As to the costs of a plant, that I can not comment on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Please pardon my naivete, but I think it should be possible to pipe water from offshore to threatened sites; after all, Britain is an island. It's surrounded by water. Is the problem that infrastructure would take too long?
    Well how about just cutting a swath from the coast inland to increase ground water levels?

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Clearly 60 million plus (and rising) people is already too many for this small rock moored just off Europe. Time we shut the gates and looked to 'evict' a few to make UK a more manageable place to live in.

    On the other hand we are surrounded by water so there would seem to be a simple solution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Would those asking for investment in our infrastructure please remember this is not the Soviet Union.

    Tricle down economics will overcome.

    Simply raid the bins outside any top restaurant for any residual water in any bottles.

    Or are you too lazy !


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