Where was a drought declared and what does it mean?

Where was a drought declared and what does it mean?

Low water levels at Colliford Lake near Bodmin

Low water levels at Colliford Lake near Bodmin

Southwest Wales became the last part of the UK where a drought was declared.

An exceptionally dry period and hot summer ensues in many areas.

Where are the dry areas?

Along with a large part of southwest Wales, nine areas of England are in drought:

The Environment Agency (EA) says the West Midlands could also be declared a drought area in the near future.

Map showing drought areas in England and Wales

Map showing drought areas in England and Wales

Separately, Northern Ireland Water asked the UK government to implement drought order measures.

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

What is a drought?

The Environment Agency decides whether to declare a drought after talking to water companies, government officials and groups, including farmer representatives.

It analyzes data including precipitation, river flows, groundwater levels, reservoir levels and soil dryness.

EA’s latest water situation report shows that some river levels are the lowest on record.

Chart showing four ways to save water at home

Chart showing four ways to save water at home

What happens when a drought is declared?

Declaring a drought in a specific area does not oblige water companies to restrict water use.

However, that does mean they put in place pre-established drought plans, which can include temporary bans on the use of things like hoses and grass sprinklers.

Map showing areas with a hose ban, as of August 17

Map showing areas with a hose ban, as of August 17

Other possible options include:

  • drinking more water than usual from rivers

  • using desalination plants such as the one in London

  • cut non-essential water use beyond hose bans

EA is also asking water companies to take action to reduce leaking pipes as quickly as possible.

Why are there droughts in Britain this year?

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

This meant that even before the start of summer, average river flows were “below normal” or “exceptionally low”.

Chart tracing the ten hottest UK days on record since 1900

Chart tracing the ten hottest UK days on record since 1900

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

Excessive use of water made the situation worse. The government says that more than a quarter of the UK’s groundwater sources have a lot of water drawn from them.

What problems do droughts cause?

The effects of drought can include:

Berry farmers have reported losing part of their harvest.

Vegetables like potatoes are at particular risk due to their high water content.

Farmers are delaying planting crops for next year, such as rapeseed, because of the dry soil.

Sheep and lambs are suffering from malnutrition.

There were several fires, with significant damage to homes and pastures.

The London Fire Brigade dealt with 340 grassland fires in the first week of August – eight times more than they had to deal with in the same week last year.

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

Map showing areas of the UK at risk of fire because of dry weather

Map showing areas of the UK at risk of fire because of dry weather

In Surrey and Yorkshire, the Environment Agency has had to transport fish from rivers that are drying up to deeper, colder waters.

What happened in the droughts of 1976 and 2018?

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

The government gained emergency powers under Prohibition Law 176 to shut down domestic and industrial water supplies.

In 2018, the drought led to crop failures, which pushed up food prices. Various water restrictions were imposed.

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.

He urged people to use less water and water companies to let less leak.

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

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