The National Drought Group (NDG), chaired by the Environment Agency’s Chief Executive, brings together government departments, water companies, environmental groups and others to coordinate action to maintain water supplies and manage the other risks associated with drought. The NDG convened on Wednesday 29 August to assess the present situation and coordinate plans for the weeks ahead.
The present situation and the prospects
Rainfall across England over three months from May to July was 54% of the long-term average (LTA). Farmers, the environment and water companies faced considerable pressures caused by the rapid deterioration in water resources.
At the end of July, a band of wet weather brought some respite as it moved across parts of the country. United Utilities called off a proposed hosepipe ban in early August but continued with applications for 4 drought permits, should they be needed later in the year. These have been approved by the Environment Agency.
August has been unsettled with dry periods interrupted by wet weather. This has helped the situation.
The Met Office’s 3 month outlook for September to November forecasts that above average temperatures and slightly lower than average rainfall are likely.
As we move into autumn the Environment Agency, the water companies and the other members of the NDG will continue to work closely together to reduce the risk of water restrictions and balance the needs of the public, businesses and the environment.
Action we are taking
Water companies have taken and will continue to take a range of actions to maintain water supplies for customers, including:
Operational interventions such as installing new pumping stations, reconfiguring networks to reduce reliance on specific water treatment works, and accelerating work to bring sites back into operation.
Tackling leakage by providing extra funding and resource to fix leaks, alongside use of technology such as satellite imaging and drones to find leaks.
Implementing contingency drought plans as appropriate.
Promoting water efficiency messages to customers through increased media activity, roadshows and community engagement.
The Environment Agency has:
Responded to a 330% increase in dry-weather related incidents compared with this time last year.
Introduced flexible abstraction for farmers in emergency cases in order to safeguard food production and animal welfare, where it is satisfied there will be no adverse effects on the environment.
Allowed farmers to trade water allowances - as set out in their abstraction licence - on a short-term basis, without the need to change their licences.
Granted United Utilities 4 drought permits at locations in Cumbria, to enable them to be deployed quickly should they be needed.
Used our powers to protect the environment by applying for a drought order. This is the first time we have used these powers due to the extraordinary dry weather this summer.
Defra, the National Farmers’ Union, Canal & River Trust, the Angling Trust and other NDG members are working actively to manage down the risks and support the needs of water users and the environment.
Advice to the public
Although we have received some rainfall during August, the overall outlook for the next 3 months remains drier than average. We encourage everyone to follow the advice of their water company and use water wisely. This will help protect the environment and the economy, and reduce the risk of further water restrictions.
Next NDG meeting
The next meeting is scheduled for 20 September where we will focus on preparing for next summer as the drought may continue through the winter.