Officials warn dry spell could last into next year and hosepipe bans could be extended to cover larger areas
Most of England is now in drought and the dry spell could last beyond Christmas, the Environment Agency will announce today[Monday], as government officials started planning for a long-term water shortage that could be disastrous for wildlife, the landscape and farming.
Large swaths of the Midlands and the south-west have entered official drought status, meaning water companies in those areas can apply to place restrictions on water use for households and businesses. This could mean an extension of the hosepipe bans in the south of England.
The drought now extends from Cornwall to Kent, East Anglia to Shropshire and Herefordshire, and as far north as Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and North Yorkshire. Even parts of Wales – normally one of the wettest parts of the UK – are reporting ill-effects from the dry spell. The smattering of rain in many areas over Easter gave little respite from low river flows and falling groundwater levels, with only England’s northernmost counties still getting enough wet weather.
While rain over the summer and autumn could alleviate the water shortages, officials are planning for the third dry winter in a row, which could devastate wildlife and farming. Only a very wet autumn and winter could prevent the drought stretching into next year. Soils are so dry that they will need a prolonged heavy soaking to recover, while levels at reservoir across much of England are so low they will take time to replenish.
Trevor Bishop, head of water resources at the Environment Agency, warned the outlook was bleak. “A longer term drought, lasting until Christmas and perhaps beyond, now looks more likely, and we are working with businesses, farmers and water companies to plan ahead to meet the challenges of a continued drought,” he said. “While we’ve had some welcome rain recently, the problem has not gone away and we would urge everyone – right across the country – to use water wisely now, which will help prevent more serious impacts next year.”