• Impacts still being felt on farm
• More rain needed – and soon
• Better management important
Another hot dry spell could see drought conditions return in this summer – despite winter rainfall replenishing most water levels, farmers have been warned.
The Environment Agency and National Drought Group said they were continuing to take action to reduce risks, improve water supplies and protect the environment following the driest summer for almost 30 years in 2022.
Water resources remain at risks, despite big improvements following five consecutive months of above average rainfall. East Anglia remains in official “drought” status, with most other areas now “recovering”.
“While most water levels have returned to normal across much of the country, low rainfall in recent weeks highlights the importance of remaining vigilant,” said drought group chairman and Environment Agency executive director John Leyland.
“We cannot rely on the weather alone, which is why the Environment Agency, water companies and our partners are taking action to ensure water resources are in the best possible position both for the summer and for future droughts.”
As of the beginning of February, total reservoir capacity across the country stood at 88%. This compares with 49% at the end of September 2022, when reservoirs were at their lowest following last summer’s drought.
Low rainfall across England since the end of January means 63% of rivers are below normal levels for this time of year. Some storage reservoirs are lower than anticipated and groundwater levels in Norfolk are only now beginning to rise slowly.
The National Drought Group includes senior decision-makers from the Environment Agency, government, the Met Office, water companies, key farming organisations and environmental groups.
Further steady rainfall was needed to ensure the nation’s water reservoirs were in a good position ahead of the warmer, drier, summer months, it said. Rainfall over the next three months would be vital to reduce summer drought risk.
The drought group said it would take time for the natural environment to recover from the impacts of last summer. Its said its members were planning for the worst case scenario of another hot, dry spell this summer.
Farmers and others should take action to manage water resources to reduce the risk of facing summer drought measures. These could include temporary use bans and a ban on taking additional water from the environment.
Mr Leyland said: “As ever, it is important that we all continue to use water carefully to protect not just our water resources, but our precious environment and the wildlife that depends on it.”
Lessons to be learned from last year
Water companies, retailers and regulators must learn from the response to the 2022 drought – and improve the way they manage and respond to future droughts.
That is the message from the National Drought Group, which says water companies have continued to maximise opportunities to improve water supplies over winter, including identifying new water sources and reducing leakage.
All sectors are now undertaking precautionary planning in the event that hot, dry weather returns in the summer, and continue to work closely together to support water supplies across the country.
With England experiencing more extreme weather more often, the Environment Agency has determined additional drought permits to help refill reservoirs and improve water supplies ahead of spring.
Farmers too working to improve drought resilience, with the Environment Agency is working closely with the Rural Payments Agency to ensure abstraction licences associated with reservoir grant applications are determined on time.
The Environment Agency said it was clear that planning for increasingly extreme weather was essential for everyone to be prepared for the impacts caused by events which include both drought and flooding.