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 99.

    Drought in the south east eh? I know, lets hold the Olympics in London at the height of the summer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    How come Spain and its islands never run out of water and yet we do?

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Of course the probable flaw in my argument @73 (at least for me, as I live in the North) is that resources would most likely be skewed towards providing for London and the South East.

    Oh..... hang on..... they are anyway (except for water).

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Its not rocket Science to work out that if you exhaust an area ( the south east) with new buildings, houses etc then the need for water will increase however there's only one group that will pay for this and this is Jo public yet again!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    To those that think that we in the SE just need to be taught how to use water sensibly...

    Year on year the SE population increases, with Government plans to add 250,000 new homes here. This cannot be sustained without major infrastructure improvements, including water supply, but where are the plans for these? Getting me to flush my toilet less often isn't the answer!

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    2000 years ago the Romans constructed aqueducts up to 300 Km long. On some of them they found they could get an acceptable flow on a gradient of 0.1%, that is a drop of 1 metre per Km. If someone like Isambard Kingdom Brunel would have found no real difficulty in replicating this task, how can present day Britain say it is too difficult. (Lots of benefit claimants can wield shovels Dave)

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Well thats the papers in the summer sorted, they will panic everyone saying the water levels are dangerously low and panic buying will come into play!

    If the real drought victims could see this they would have to laugh as crying is the only other alternative.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    @Klaus You think overpopulation is the main cause? Sure, I won't say it isn't a factor. However, it's the UK. Drought? Better Water management, Water companies need to better their infrastructure to deal with this accordingly too. But they won’t.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    It is a absolute scandal that the UK where it rains as much as it does, is to lack water.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Hey, I've got an idea. Instead of spending billions of £s on a railway that no one wants or needs, why not spend the money sorting the water problems out. I am sure that the £30 billion or so would go a long way to sort it out, but then I doubt that will happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Metering the water will not do any good... Those who can pay will pay excessive charges, while those on benefits will be allowed to use as much water as they want...paid for by the (tax payers) government. Overpopulation has lot to do with this, not poor rainfall...

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Since we have more water North of the Border than we know what to do with it would be rather satisfying to sell our surplus to those obnoxious "little Englanders", who have been most vocal on the subject of why Scotland should be encouraged to leave the UK. Apparently we have nothing to offer the rest of the UK (ie England)....apart from oil; renewables; intellectual property and...oh yes, Water!

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    HS2 with a water main built into the embankments? Two pieces of infrastructure for the price of one?

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    You rough lot in the south can keep off our water in Gods country here in the north.
    If you need water build some desalination plants !

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    As for water companies 'connecting the networks' ... I moved into a new house a month ago (in London) and on the short walk to the bus stop have had to leap over a torrent of water from the same burst water main every day since. There's little point in the water firms adding to a network they are already incapable of maintaining.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    There are coments on the economics and energy consequences of deslaination plants.

    Given that there is already plenty of water storeage (emptying rapidly at the moment) surely desalination is the ideal demand for a system with renewable energy as the deslaination plants could only be run when there was excess supply of renewables and switched off when energy supply was tighter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Bad management lack of investment and strategy but lots of profit they don't have a water shortage in Dubai and it hardly never rains there

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    And how many houses did 'two jags' want to build in the South east?

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Move water a 100 miles? The Romans did it with manpower alone. The Victorians did it with manpower, steam and maybe a little dynamite!

    In the 'South', you managed to build a tunnel to France!

    Come on!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Modern housing estates now take water straight from the houses, down pipework direct to the rivers, the natural water table becomes depleted, underground springs fail, and water is lost.


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