An investigation by Unearthed reveals How England’s water companies struggled in last summer’s heatwaves

Water supplies ran so low during last summer’s drought that England’s environmental regulator warned that companies might break the law to keep the taps running, documents obtained by Unearthed reveal.

The internal briefings – obtained under freedom of information laws – show that water reserves in some major reservoirs were at record lows and in some cases approaching a state of “dead storage”, where there is so little water left it may not be treatable. Nearly half of all English reservoirs were classed as “exceptionally low” for the time of year.

The Environment Agency (EA) was facing choices between permitting measures that would maintain water supplies and upholding environmental law. It warned that Yorkshire Water and Southern Water might take action in breach of their abstraction licences, posing risks to protected areas, rare habitats and wildlife. Unearthed has no evidence that either company did break the law.

Water companies told Unearthed that they had responded in a “pro-active” and “prudent” manner to the unprecedented conditions in order to ensure water supplies while protecting the environment. They stressed that no one had experienced loss of supply and that they were learning lessons from last year’s drought while investing for the future.

You can read the full story – and the original documents – on Unearthed here. It was published in the Times here.

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