Monday 20 May 2024
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Are hosepipe bans likely in England this summer?

The National Drought Group has reconvened to discuss ongoing preparation for future droughts, but confirmed water resources are healthy following England’s wettest October to March on record.

The Environment Agency chaired its regular meeting of the group today (Thursday 18 April) in which they discussed the ongoing challenge of managing future droughts as our climate changes.

The National Drought Group

The group – which includes the Met Office, government, water companies, farmers, and conservation experts – noted no area is in drought and reservoir storage for England as a whole was 95% at the end of March.

Too much water

Farmers are currently facing the problem of too much water, rather than too little, which the meeting heard could impact this year’s growing season.

Hospipe Bans

The current water resource outlook means there is a low-risk that hosepipe bans will be needed this summer.

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The EA has instructed water companies to keep preparing for all rainfall scenarios and continue their work on demand management and leakage reduction. The public have also been urged to continue playing their part in protecting the environment by using water wisely.

‘Every drop we can save will help’

Environment Agency Director of Water, Helen Wakeham, who chaired the meeting said:

“While it is positive that water supplies are currently in a favourable place, every drop we can save will help ensure our supplies are resilient into the future. Even following wet weather, we cannot be complacent with this precious resource.

“We all need to use water wisely, such as turning off taps when they are not needed or installing water butts in our gardens. At the same time, the Environment Agency will continue to work with the water, agriculture, and environment sectors, to prepare for droughts, which can come unexpectedly as we found in 2022.”

Water companies and leakage

Water Minister Robbie Moore said:

“It was promising to hear that water supplies are currently healthy – however, we all have a role to ensure this remains the case. We have been clear to water companies that as well as going further and faster to tackle pollution, they need to do more to secure future water supplies.

“This includes reducing leakage by at least 50% by 2050, as well as encouraging efficiency through an increased use of smart water meters.

“We are securing significant investment to develop new infrastructure, which would include building more reservoirs, and it is vital water companies and regional groups deliver on these plans.

“We are also supporting farmers to store more water on their land with tens of millions of pounds delivered through the Water Management Grants to fund more on-farm reservoirs and works to improve irrigation.”

Future droughts

The meeting heard how all sectors are preparing for the summer as well as how they will cope with future droughts.

Regulators, including the EA, Ofwat and Natural England, are also currently working with water companies as they refine and improve their Water Resource Management Plans – a statutory requirement to ensure the long term balance between supply and demand is maintained.

By 2050, we may need nearly five billion additional litres of water per day to meet the demand for public water supply. In order to meet this challenge and protect the environment, water companies will be investing in new infrastructure such as new reservoirs, desalination plants and water transfer schemes. This would be in addition to other measures such as reducing leakage from pipes and helping customers to use less water.

Defra and the EA are also supporting the agriculture sector to improve its water supply resilience in the short and long-term and ensuring farmers’ and growers’ needs are incorporated into regional water resources plans. Part of this work includes helping farmers and growers to identify and screen options including new reservoirs and water sharing.

More form the meeting

National Drought Group members also heard that:

  • All NDG members are taking action to improve drought preparation and response, learning lessons from 2022, and are keen to continue working collaboratively.
  • The National Farmers Union explained how it is supporting its members through the recent flooding and, over the longer term, also supporting the sector improve its resilience to drought.
  • Natural England continues to work with the EA and other environment groups to help describe the environmental impacts of dry weather and drought, and the importance of building environmental resilience to extreme weather.
  • Water companies are coming together to tackle national issues, such as reducing customer demand while boosting supply through ambitious water resources programmes.
  • The Canal & River Trust is developing its drought plan to cover more extreme droughts, so it is prepared for the future.
  • Waterwise continue their work on water saving tips for households, noting how small daily measures can make a significant impact, and reminded the group of its upcoming Water Saving Week – a campaign to spread awareness about the urgent need to reduce water wasted irrespective of the weather.
  • The UK Health Security Agency provides advice to the public on the potential health impacts of drought and the measures people can take to stay healthy during those events.

Current situation

  • The EA uses four stages to describe dry weather – prolonged dry weather, drought, severe drought and recovering drought.
  • Devon and Cornwall only moved out of the last stage and into ‘normal’ status in early March.
  • Reservoir storage for England as a whole was 95% at the end of March. Storage levels in the vast majority of reservoirs were classed as normal or above normal at the end of March.
  • England has had its wettest 18 months (between October 2022 – March 2024) since Met Office records began in 1836. October 2023 to March 2024 is the wettest winter half year period across England since records began.
  • Monthly mean river flows in March were predominantly notably or exceptionally high for the time of year across many parts of England, particularly across southern England. Nine sites had their highest March monthly mean flows on record.
  • At the end of March, groundwater levels across England were classed as normal or higher across all aquifers. Levels were exceptionally high across many chalk aquifers with groundwater flood alerts and warnings in place across many parts of central southern England.

The meeting follows recent measures delivered by government and the Environment Agency to drive improvements to the water environment including:

  • The Environment Agency’s whistleblower portal to make it easier for internal water company whistleblowers to safely report serious environmental wrongdoing by their water companies.
  • A fourfold increase in water company inspections to hold companies to account – rising to 4000 a year by the end of March 2025, and then to 10,000 from April 2026, and an increase in unannounced inspections.
  • A new £11m Water Restoration Fund to reinvest water company fines and penalties back into the water environment.
  • Requiring water companies to monitor 100% of storm overflows in England – providing a complete picture of when and where sewage spills happen.
  • Removing the cap on civil penalties for water companies and broadening their scope so swifter action can be taken against those who pollute our waterways.
  • Requiring the largest infrastructure programme in water company history – £60 billion over 25 years – to revamp ageing assets and reduce the number of sewage spills by hundreds of thousands every year.
  • Increasing protections for coastal and estuarine waters by expanding the Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan, prioritising bathing waters, sites of special scientific interest and shellfish waters.
  • Providing £10 million in support for farmers to store more water on their land through the Water Management Grants to support food production and improve water security.
  • A targeted plan to better preserve and protect the River Wye, including £35m in funding.
  • Speeding up the process of building key water supply infrastructure, including more reservoirs and water transfer schemes.

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