Where is a drought declared and what does it mean?

Where is a drought declared and what does it mean?

Where is a drought declared and what does it mean?

Low water levels at Colliford Lake near Bodmin

Low water levels at Colliford Lake near Bodmin

A drought has been officially declared across the West Midlands.

It is the tenth area in England to be given drought status by the Environment Agency.

The move follows an unusually dry period with higher than average temperatures.

Where are the drought areas?

Along with much of South West Wales, ten areas in England are currently in drought:

Graph showing drought areas in England and Wales (24 August 2022)

Graph showing drought areas in England and Wales (24 August 2022)

Separately, Northern Ireland Water has called on the UK government to put drought order measures in place.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency temporarily banned farmers in parts of Fife from using water from the River Eden on their fields.

What is a drought?

The Environment Agency (EA) decides whether to declare a drought after talking to water companies, government officials and groups including farmers’ representatives.

It looks at data including rainfall, river flows, groundwater levels, reservoir levels and soil dryness.

The EA’s latest water situation report shows some river levels are the lowest ever recorded.

Graphic showing four ways to save water at home

Graphic showing four ways to save water at home

What happens when a drought is declared?

Declaring a drought in a certain area does not oblige the water companies to limit water use.

However, it does mean they implement pre-arranged drying plans, which may include temporary bans on things like hoses and lawn sprinklers.

Hosepipe bans are now in place across much of England and parts of Wales.

Map showing areas with snake bans, as of 17 August

Map showing areas with snake bans, as of 17 August

Other possible options include:

  • takes more water than usual from rivers

  • using desalination plants, such as the one in London

  • cut non-essential use of water beyond hose bans

The Norwegian Environment Agency also encourages the water companies to act to reduce leakage from pipes as quickly as possible.

Why is there a drought in Britain this year?

In the first three months of the year, England’s rainfall fell by 26%, while in Wales it was down 22%.

This meant that even before summer had started, the average river flow was “below normal” or “exceptionally low”.

Map showing the ten hottest days in the UK since 1900

Map showing the ten hottest days in the UK since 1900

In July, the rainfall was a quarter of the normal level.

Overconsumption of water has made the situation worse. The government says over a quarter of Britain’s underground water sources have had too much water taken from them.

What problems does drought cause?

The effects of drought can include:

Berry farmers have reported losing some of their crop.

Vegetables such as potatoes are particularly vulnerable due to their high water content.

Farmers are putting off planting crops such as canola until next year because of the dry soil.

Sheep and lambs suffer from malnutrition.

There have been several fires, with significant damage to houses and grasslands.

London Fire Brigade dealt with 340 grass fires in the first week of August – eight times as many as they had to deal with in the same week last year.

Due to the high risk of wildfires, some stores removed disposable grills from the shelves.

Map showing areas of the UK at risk of fire due to the dry weather

Map showing areas of the UK at risk of fire due to the dry weather

In Surrey and Yorkshire, the Environment Agency has had to move fish from rivers that are drying up to deeper, cooler water.

What happened in the droughts of 1976 and 2018?

In 1976 and 2018, the UK experienced severe droughts lasting months, caused by dry springs and very hot summers.

The government took emergency powers under Drought Act 176 to cut off water supplies to households and industry.

In 2018, the drought led to crop failure, which increased food prices. Several water restrictions were introduced.

Could we see more droughts in the future?

The National Infrastructure Commission – which advises the UK government – says there could be more droughts in the future due to population growth and climate change.

It has urged people to use less water and for water companies to let less of it leak away.

It is believed that up to three billion liters of water is lost in the UK every day.

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