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Drought planning continues following hot summer

The National Drought Group has urged people to use water wisely following a meeting to discuss pressure on water resources and the environment following this summer's heatwave.

Environment Agency chief executive Sir James Bevan chaired the National Drought Group meetingEnvironment Agency chief executive Sir James Bevan chaired the National Drought Group meeting

The environment has suffered due to the driest May to July across England since 1921. The Environment Agency (EA) responded to a 330 per cent increase in significant drought-related incidents as teams acted to protect wildlife and rescue fish struggling due to low river flows.

Numerous species, habitats, birds, trees and aquatic life have been affected by the weather and high demand for water. EA hydrologists recorded ‘exceptionally low’ river flows for five weeks in a row, reservoir stocks for England as a whole were at historic lows for the end of July and soils were the driest on record in the North-West.

The EA’s chief executive, Sir James Bevan, chaired the National Drought Group meeting and received updates from water companies, discussed ways to protect the environment and sustain support for farmers and businesses.

Water companies were asked to outline progress against agreed action plans to maintain water supplies while protecting the environment. They reported that there are no current plans to bring in Temporary Use Bans (hosepipe bans) although water restrictions remain a possibility if rainfall in September is low.

The EA has taken a range of actions to respond to the impacts of dry weather including:

  • Supporting farmers by allowing more flexibility with water abstraction in order to safeguard food production and animal welfare
  • Operating water transfers to help maintain river flows
  • Increased monitoring and inspection of businesses abstracting water to ensure they are not taking more water than they need
  • Issuing four drought permits to United Utilities at locations in Cumbria, should they be needed later in the year
  • Not cleaning EA fleet vehicles and office windows to avoid unnecessary water usage

Although August has seen dry periods interrupted by bouts of wet weather, the Met Office three-month outlook for September to November forecasts that above average temperatures and slightly lower than average rainfall are likely.

Sir James Bevan said: "Over the last few months of prolonged dry weather, the Environment Agency, the water companies and many others have been working hard together to reduce the risk of water restrictions and balance the needs of the public, businesses and the environment.

"Despite the recent rain, we will need to continue to collaborate closely as we move into autumn. All of us have a role to play in helping to protect the environment and maintain supplies. We encourage everyone to use water wisely."

Author: Robin Hackett, editor, WWT
Topic: Water resources
Tags: environment agency , environment , drought

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