The UK's National Drought Group (NDG) has this week agreed measures to manage the current drought and minimise risks for next year, with businesses now facing a “new normal” for water.
The NDG – which is includes decision-makers from the Environment Agency (EA), government and water companies – said that prolonged dry weather has led to “exceptionally low” river flows and groundwater, and a decline in reservoir levels, with some “well below average” for the time of year.
Indeed, 10 of the EA’s 14 areas are now in drought, with Cumbria and Lancashire currently the only one with a 'normal water resource’ status.
The group warned that recent rainfall in some parts of the country is not enough to replenish rivers, groundwater or reservoirs to normal levels, saying that this will require a return to sustained average or above average rainfall over the coming months.
In response, it has agreed to intensify work to meet or beat existing water security targets, as well as committing to various other measures, such carrying out compliance checks to ensure water abstractors are complying with licence restrictions, and doing more to fix leaks.
EA chief executive, Sir James Bevan, said: “A complete gear change is needed for how water companies and all water users, from farmers to households, think about how they use water and understand its fundamental value.
“This summer should be a wake-up call for how the nation prepares for weather extremes and how we make the very best use of our water resources. Our National Framework for Water Resources sets out clearly what we are doing in the face of a new normal for water, and we are determined to drive that forward.”
Specifically, the EA has committed to:
- Monitor and predict river flows and groundwater levels, increasing the number of checks in important locations
- Manage water users’ abstraction licences to balance the needs of water companies, other abstractors and the natural environment.
- Carry out irrigation patrols and other compliance checks to ensure abstractors are complying with licence restrictions
- Respond to incidents caused by low river flows and high temperatures
- Operate its water transfer schemes to maintain river flows and groundwater levels to support wildlife and facilitate abstraction by water companies for public supply
- Support farmers and growers by providing advice and guidance
- Manage river levels and conserve water on the Thames and other rivers.
Meanwhile, as well as introducing hosepipe bans, NDG water companies have agreed to:
- Continue to implement their drought plans proactively
- Seek to maintain or where necessary increase water availability
- Reduce water loss by stepping up work to fix leaks
- Help their customers use less water.
The NDG said that sufficient rainfall over the autumn and winter would replenish rivers, lakes, groundwaters and reservoirs to normal levels by the spring, but that planning should begin now on how best to manage any shortfalls that might arise in 2023.
Water minister, Steve Double, said: “More work must be done to ensure that we push forward investment to cut leaks and better prepare for prolonged dry weather for this year, next year and the coming decade.
“Water companies need to be putting the needs of their bill payers front and centre of their plans – which means redoubling efforts to cut leakage and protect our natural environment.”
The NDG will meet again on 19 September to review the latest situation and agree any further necessary measures.
Image credit: iStock