Why is a drought going to be declared in the UK?

1 month ago 27

A person walks a dry bank of a tributary to the Dowry Reservoir close to OldhamImage source, PA Media

Following the driest July in England since 1935, some water companies have introduced hosepipe bans.

It has raised concerns that the UK could be heading for a drought.

What is a drought?

A drought relates to a lack of water, but there are different types of drought and their nature and impact might vary.

The Royal Meteorological Society says a drought is not just a lack of water for a specific time. For example, there can be agricultural droughts where there is not enough water to grow a crop.

The decision on whether to declare a drought in England is taken by the Environment Agency, which coordinates the response with water companies. The agency doesn't use a single definition of a drought - it takes into account factors like the impact on people and how long a drought will last.

Why has 2022 seen drought warnings?

The National Drought Group moved England into "Prolonged Dry Weather" status - the stage before a drought - at an emergency meeting.

In the first three months of the year, England's rainfall was down 26% and in Wales it was down 22%.

This meant, even before the summer started, that average river flows were "below normal" or "exceptionally low".

July saw temperature records broken multiple times and rainfall is down 76%.

These conditions have been made worse by the overconsumption of water. More than 28% of underground water sources are overused, the government says.

Where are hosepipe bans being imposed?

Water companies are allowed to bring in hosepipe bans to reduce water usage.

These can be announced in response to river and reservoir levels running low.

Thames Water, which has 15 million customers, is the latest company to announce a ban. No exact date has been given, but restrictions will start "in the coming weeks".

Welsh Water has announced a hosepipe ban coming into force on 19 August, covering Pembrokeshire and a small part of Carmarthens.

Southern Water introduced a hosepipe ban on 5 August for customers in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

And South East Water is introducing a hosepipe and sprinkler ban on Friday for customers across Kent and Sussex. Rule-breakers could be hit with a £1,000 fine.

What damage do droughts cause?

killing fish and creating water pollutioncrop failure wildfires

The National Farmers' Union is watching the situation closely. Berry farmers have already reported losing some of their crop.

Vegetables such as potatoes - which are due to be harvested next month - are at particular risk due to their high-water content.

The effects could be felt into next year, as farmers are delaying planting crops such as rapeseed because the soil is too dry.

Image source, REUTERS/Darren Staples

Image caption,

The price of barley and wheat increased four fold during the 2018 heatwave as crops failed

The recent record-breaking temperatures and very dry conditions led to multiple fires, with significant damage to homes and grasslands.

The Environment Agency oversees the management of the UK's aquatic life, and will move fish to other rivers should water levels drop too low - as was done in Yorkshire in July.

Outside of the UK, places such as northern Italy and Portugal declared drought emergencies earlier in the summer and put water restrictions in place.

France, Spain and Portugal have also faced significant wildfires due to the dry conditions.

What happened in the 1976 and 2018 droughts?

In 1976 and 2018 the UK experienced severe droughts lasting months.

They were caused by a prolonged period of dry weather through the spring and then an unusually warm summer.

In 1976, the Drought Act created emergency powers to turn off domestic and industrial water supplies.

In 2018, the widespread drought led to crop failures, which raised food prices. Multiple water restrictions were put in place.

This year has seen similar conditions, with low rainfall and above average temperatures in July.

The conditions in August will be an important factor in whether the UK enters drought again.

Could we see more droughts in the future?

The National Infrastructure Commission - which provides advice to the government - recently said there could be more water shortages in the future, because of population growth and climate change.

It called for changes to water consumption and reductions in water losses.

The government's 25-year Environment Plan aims to tackle these issues by investing in existing infrastructure and improving efficiency in homes and businesses.

Read Entire Article