Sunday, March 3, 2024

Plan now to avoid 2023 drought, Environment Agency tells water companies

Water companies must start planning now to avoid potentially significant water supply and environmental impacts next summer, National Drought Group members have been told.

At its latest meeting, chaired by Environment Agency Executive Director John Leyland and joined by Water Minister Rebecca Pow, the National Drought Group discussed how significant risks remain for water supplies and impacted sectors next year, despite an improving water resources situation in some parts of the country.

Above-average rainfall in October and November has been beneficial in wetting up soils and improving river flows, which is recharging groundwater and refilling reservoirs across the country. As a result, reservoir stocks across England are now around 68% capacity. This has led to some water companies revoking drought permit applications and removing restrictions such as hosepipe bans.

Normally at this time of year water resources start to recharge as rainfall increases river flows and refills reservoirs, groundwater and winter storage on farms. The start of the recharge has taken longer this year because soils that need to be re-wetted first have been so dry. This means that above average rainfall is still needed to fully replenish stocks and prevent drought conditions in some areas next year. As a result, many farmers and growers are likely to experience the effects of drought into next year and environmental impacts are expected to continue as ecology and habitats take longer to recover from drought stress.

EA Executive Director and NDG chair John Leyland said:

“We cannot rely on the weather alone – if we are to avoid a worse drought next year, it will require action by us all. Early and precautionary planning must start now to manage the risks that this would bring.”

“Building on the work of the EA, water companies and NDG members this year – from implementing drought plan measures such as Temporary Use Bans and drought permits to helping customers use less water – we must keep up our preparations for the worst-case scenario.

“Over winter we expect water companies to fix and reduce leaks, identify new sources of water and work with farmers, growers and other sectors to protect our precious water resources should drought remain next year.”

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