The National Drought Group, made up of senior decision makers from the Environment Agency, government, water companies and key representative groups, joined by Water Minister Steve Double, met on Friday (12 August) to discuss the response to the driest summer in fifty years and the continued action needed.
At the meeting, the Environment Agency said that the drought trigger threshold had been met to move parts of the South West, parts of Southern and Central England, and the East of England into Drought.
The Environment Agency has confirmed ‘Drought’ status in eight of its 14 areas:
- Devon and Cornwall
- Solent and South Downs
- Kent and South London
- Herts and North London
- East Anglia
- Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire
- East Midlands
The triggers used to confirm Friday’s move to ‘Drought’ status for these areas include the hydrological position (including rainfall, river flows, groundwater levels, reservoir levels, and the dryness of soils), as well as the impacts these conditions have on public water supply, abstractors (including farmers) and the environment. This is determined by the Environment Agency at a local level, rather than nationally.
This change in status to drought is a change in categorisation, indicating the impact prolonged dry weather is having on water resources and the environment. It does not automatically trigger actions itself, but moving to drought status means that the Environment Agency and water companies will step up their actions to manage the impacts and press ahead with implementing the stages of their pre-agreed drought plans. These plans follow local factors including reservoir levels, demand and forecasts, and lead to precautionary actions such as Temporary Use Bans. The last drought in England was 2018.
During the meeting the National Drought Group members agreed to:
- Recognise the new risks and impacts associated with the current outlook.
- Ensure water companies are following their Drought plans.
- Continue working collaboratively across sectors to manage current impacts – working together to balance water needs and conserve water.
Harvey Bradshaw, Environment Agency executive director for the environment and chair of the NDG, said:
“The current high temperatures we are experiencing have exacerbated pressures on wildlife and our water environment.
“EA staff are doing an excellent job responding to environmental impacts and working with water companies to make sure they are following their drought plans.
“Today’s meeting has helped to build on our coordinated action to manage water supplies, consider water users and protect the environment. We urge everyone to manage the amount of water they are using in this exceptionally dry period.”
Water Minister Steve Double said:
“We are currently experiencing a second heatwave after what was the driest July on record for parts of the country. Action is already being taken by the Government and other partners including the Environment Agency to manage the impacts.
“All water companies have reassured us that essential supplies are still safe, and we have made it clear it is their duty to maintain those supplies.
“We are better prepared than ever before for periods of dry weather, but we will continue to closely monitor the situation, including impacts on farmers and the environment, and take further action as needed.”
There have been five consecutive months of below average rainfall across all geographic regions in England and above average temperatures. River flows, Groundwater levels and Reservoir stocks all decreased during July. Thirteen EA monitored indicator rivers are at the lowest levels ever recorded and soil moisture deficit is comparable to that seen at the end of the 1976 drought.
The National Drought Group will continue to work together very closely over the coming weeks. Environment Agency Chief Executive, Sir James Bevan, will chair a further meeting of the Group with water company Chief Executives on Tuesday 23 August.