Drought may last until Christmas: Environment Agency
- 16 April 2012
- From the section England
Official drought zones have been declared in a further 17 English counties, as a warning came that water shortages could last until Christmas.
The Environment Agency said dry weather over the past few months had left some rivers in England exceptionally low.
It has now extended its "drought map" into the Midlands and the South West.
Officials say public water supplies are unlikely to be affected by the continuing drought, but are reiterating calls for water to be used wisely.
England's South West and the Midlands have moved into official drought status after two dry winters "left rivers and ground waters depleted", the agency said.
The Midlands region covers Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, West Midlands, Warwickshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire.
The South West region covers Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Bristol, South Gloucestershire, parts of Hampshire and most of Wiltshire.
Drought restrictions were already in place in south-east England, East Anglia, parts of the South and Yorkshire.
The Environment Agency said the dry weather was taking its toll on the environment and farmers.
And BBC Midlands Environment Correspondent David Gregory said the impact on farmers was one of the reasons the Midlands was being regarded as a drought zone.
"Although the Midlands now joins the South East and other parts of the UK in drought, the reasons behind the Environment Agency's decision are slightly different," he said.
"For the parched South East it is ordinary consumers who are affected. But in the Midlands that is not the case. Water companies there are all confident there will be no need to introduce a hosepipe ban for customers this year.
"However, a drought can cause other problems apart from a hosepipe ban. In the Midlands the lack of rainfall has had a huge impact on rivers and farmers."
During winter, parts of England received less than 60% of the average seasonal rainfall.
Hosepipe bans affecting about 20 million customers, introduced by seven water authorities in parts of southern and eastern England, remain in place.
Head of water resources at the Environment Agency Trevor Bishop said: "A longer-term drought, lasting until Christmas and perhaps beyond, now looks more likely.
"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."
The lack of rain had caused problems for wildlife, wetlands and crop production in the South West and Midlands, the agency said.
In the Midlands, it rescued fish from the River Lathkill in Derbyshire after it dried up.
The rivers Tern, Sow, Soar and Leadon are at their lowest ever recorded levels.
In the South West, rivers are also suffering and nationally important chalk streams, such as the Dorset Avon and the Stour, which support rare trout and salmon species, are exceptionally low.
The agency said while rain over the spring and summer would help to water crops and gardens, it was "unlikely to improve the underlying drought situation".
The agency said it was working to help farmers top up their storage reservoirs, adding it had introduced a "fast track process" for farmers to apply to take additional water when river flows are high.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said: "As more areas of the UK move into drought it is vital that we use less water to protect the public's water supply in the driest areas of the country.
"It is for everyone to share the responsibility to save water."