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Environment Agency publishes drought framework for England

The Environment Agency has published its drought framework for England setting out how the agency will work with government, water companies and others to manage water resources during a drought.

As the environmental regulator for water, the agency has overall responsibility for safeguarding the environment during drought and overseeing the actions water companies take to secure public water supplies. It is the role of the Environment Agency to monitor, report and act to reduce the impact of drought on the natural environment.

The EA uses a colour coding system to determine the severity of a developing drought situation, with stages including green (normal stage), yellow (developing drought stage), amber (drought stage) and red (severe drought stage).

During a yellow, ‘developing drought’ stage, the agency will increase the number of abstraction cessation conditions in force for the time of year, as well as encouraging voluntary restrictions on abstraction and limiting the navigation of canals and rivers. Water companies will be expected to heighten the use of water efficiency messages to their customers.

In the amber ‘drought’ stage, the EA will enforce drought permits and orders to protect public water supply and the environment; impose localised spray irrigation restrictions for agriculture; and the agency’s chief executive will chair special meetings of the National Drought Group. Water companies are likely to consider restrictions on non-essential domestic and commercial water use during this phase.

In the red ‘severe drought’ stage, the government may activate the Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBRA) to provide additional crisis leadership, while the EA will step up its work with abstractors and stakeholders and continue the enforcement of drought permits and orders.

Over the past 40 years, the most recent notable droughts were in 1975-6, 1989-92, 1995-6, 2004-6 and 2010-12. The most severe drought in living memory occurred from May 1975 to August 1976.

Most recently, from September 2010 to March 2012 many parts of England experienced the driest 18 months for over 100 years, and 7 water companies in south and east England imposed temporary use bans on 20 million people in April 2012.

The Drought Framework for England can be downloaded here.

Author: James Brockett,
Topic: Water resources
Tags: drought , environment agency , abstraction

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