Water abstraction during prolonged dry weather and drought

Guidance for non-water company abstraction licence holders affected by prolonged dry weather and drought.

Current situation

The water situation is returning to normal. The Met Office 3-month weather forecast until the end of December 2020 indicates above average rainfall for the UK. We anticipate that winter season abstractors will be able to access water this winter within their licence conditions.

Effects of prolonged dry weather and drought

Prolonged dry weather and drought can affect:

  • the ability to irrigate crops
  • the quality and quantity of crops farmers and growers can produce
  • the ability of licence holders to keep within their abstraction licence limits
  • the reliability of normal water sources
  • animal health and welfare, for example if livestock drinking water is not available and there is no mains supply – see the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board guidance on Water supply problems for livestock farms
  • private water supplies to properties
  • managed wetlands and other environmental features due to reduced river flows and groundwater levels

How abstraction licence holders can get help

If you think you will not be able to keep to the conditions of your abstraction licence during prolonged dry weather or drought, please contact us.

We will discuss the options available for improving your access to water.

We can only consider options that are in line with our abstraction licensing strategies. The options must not damage the environment or affect the rights of existing lawful water users.

We may ask you to change your abstraction licence to help your business improve its resilience to prolonged dry weather and drought.

Refilling winter storage reservoirs for spray irrigation

The winter abstraction season is from 1 November to 31 March. Winter abstraction licences normally have a condition that restricts water abstraction to these months. In prolonged dry weather and drought, we may allow you to take water outside the winter season. However, we will only allow this if river flows are high enough in the autumn or spring for you to abstract water without affecting the environment and other abstractors.

It is likely that abstractors will be able to refill their storage reservoirs by the end of the 2020 to 2021 winter season. Therefore we will not allow abstractors to refill storage reservoirs outside the normal winter season. We will review this position early in the spring.

Apply to change your abstraction licence if you want to refill your storage reservoir outside the winter abstraction season.

Plan for the future

Climate change may increase the frequency of prolonged dry weather and drought.

To reduce the risk of future problems, you should plan how you will improve the resilience of your water supplies. For example, consider if you can:

  • use the water you abstract more efficiently
  • change your cropping plans or build a storage reservoir to fill in the winter
  • buy water from other abstraction licence holders – known as trading water rights

Check your abstraction licence

Check your licence before you contact the Environment Agency to make sure:

You can see your abstraction licence details and submit your abstraction returns online.

Contact the Environment Agency

Please get in touch with us to discuss what options might be available.

General enquiries

National Customer Contact Centre
PO Box 544
S60 1BY

Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm.

Due to the current health emergency we have reduced the times our phone lines are open. This is under review and we hope to be able to extend them soon. If possible please contact us by email at

The impact of COVID-19 on our teams means you may experience some delays in responses as most of our staff will be working from home. We are currently unable to deal with post sent to our offices in the usual way.

Published 13 June 2019
Last updated 9 October 2020 + show all updates
  1. We have updated our position on refilling winter storage reservoirs for spray irrigation in the winter abstraction season based on the current water situation.

  2. Updated to explain how water abstraction licence holders affected by prolonged dry weather can get help.

  3. We have updated this guidance to allow potential early refill of winter storage reservoirs if 'hands off flow' and environmental conditions allow. We have also published more information to help abstractors complete their abstraction returns.

  4. First published.