Plan now to avoid drought next summer, National Drought Group told

The latest National Drought Group meeting reiterates expectation that water companies start planning now to manage potentially significant impacts next year.

Water companies must start planning now to avoid potentially significant water supply and environmental impacts next summer, National Drought Group members were told yesterday (28 November).

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.

Recent 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 Temporary Use Bans (hosepipe bans).

The Environment Agency also confirmed yesterday that the West Midlands is moving from drought status to recovery, and Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire from Prolonged Dry Weather to Normal status, reflecting the improved reservoir and river levels in these areas.

Despite this, the group – made up of senior decision-makers from the Environment Agency, government, water companies and key farming and environmental groups – heard that some reservoirs remain well below the levels we would expect at this time of year:

  • Colliford Reservoir in Cornwall (24% of capacity)
  • Roadford Reservoir in Devon (43% of capacity)
  • Grafham Water in Cambridgeshire (63% of capacity)

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.

This July’s heatwave saw many comparing it with the hot, dry summer of 1976, when water supplies were at their lowest on record. One of the reasons for the 1976 drought was that it was preceded by a dry 1975.

If rainfall levels through winter are 80% or less of the long-term average, National Drought Group projections show that currently depleted reservoirs and groundwater aquifers are unlikely to fully recover and farmers would be concerned their water supply storage reservoirs may not fully refill. Large parts of the country would be at risk of drought continuing into next summer – most notably in parts of the South West, South East, East Anglia, Yorkshire

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