The UK Environment Agency has warned that the drought in England could last beyond Christmas. Seventeen counties in South West England and the Midlands have now moved into official drought status, after two dry winters have left rivers and ground waters depleted.
While public water supplies in these areas are unlikely to be affected, the lack of rain is taking its toll on the environment and farmers – causing problems for wildlife, wetlands and crop production. The Environment Agency is urging businesses, water companies and consumers to all play their part by using water wisely, to help conserve precious water supplies.
In the Midlands the Environment Agency has rescued fish from the River Lathkill in Derbyshire after it dried up, and the Rivers Tern, Sow, Soar and Leadon reached their lowest ever recorded levels in March. In the South West rivers are also suffering and nationally important chalk streams, such as the Hampshire Avon and the Dorset Stour, which support rare trout and salmon species, are exceptionally low.
While rain over the spring and summer will help to water crops and gardens, it is unlikely to improve the underlying drought situation. It was hoped that a prolonged period of rainfall between October and March – known as the winter recharge period – would prevent widespread drought, but parts of England received less than 60 per cent of the average winter rainfall, and water supplies have not been replenished.
Experts are now hoping for a steady rainy winter in 2012/13 to restore rivers and groundwaters, but the Environment Agency is working with the water industry to put plans in place now to deal with the prospect of a third dry winter. Water companies are looking at where they may be able to get more water, options to share water across company boundaries and how they can reduce leakage further. The Agency is urging all water users to save water now, to help prevent more serious shortages and environmental impacts next year.
Trevor Bishop, head of water resources at the Environment Agency, says: “A longer term drought, lasting until Christmas and perhaps beyond, now looks more likely – and we are working with businesses, farmers and water companies to plan ahead to meet the challenges of a continued drought.”