Whilst spring rainfall has been a welcome relief for most of the country, experts caution that ongoing action will remain vital for securing our water supply into the future.
At this week’s meeting of the National Drought Group (Wednesday 24 May), chaired by Environment Agency Chief Executive John Curtin, the group discussed how the government, regulators and water companies can work together to better prepare for the continual shocks and erratic weather patterns caused by a changing climate.
Two Environment Agency areas remain in drought – parts of East Anglia, as well as Devon and Cornwall. Both areas are beginning to improve following above average rainfall throughout April.
The Environment Agency is advising water companies to get their drought preparedness plans in order now, as another hot, dry spell could see drought conditions return.
England is experiencing more extreme weather more often, with parts of the country experiencing drought and flooding at the same time. Earlier this year, we also saw the driest February in 30 years followed by the wettest March in 40 years, which demonstrates how we cannot rely on weather alone to secure sufficient water resources.
The National Drought Group – which is made up of senior decision-makers from the Environment Agency, government, the Met Office, water companies and key farming and environmental groups – heard that a collaborative approach is needed to improve the environment and ensure adequate water supplies are available for people, agriculture, wildlife and the environment.
Environment Agency Chief Executive and NDG Chair, John Curtin, said: "This spring’s wet weather continues to improve water availability. But increasingly extreme climate shocks, such as last summer’s hot and dry spell, can change everything in an instant."
"We need to be better prepared for future climate-driven drought, as well as learn from what we have already experienced. That is why government, regulators, water companies and all water users will continue to work together, using the latest science and best practice, to ensure our water resources are prepared for more extreme events in the future."
Water Minister Rebecca Pow said: "Whilst recent rain has been a relief for many, it is crucial that we all work together to ease pressures on our precious water supply and increase resilience to drought - everyone has an important role to play.
"The government will continue to work collaboratively with the Environment Agency and industry, and through our Plan for Water, we are ensuring key water supply infrastructure such as reservoirs can be built more quickly. Water companies must better deliver for customers, step up their water resource planning efforts and take precautionary steps to ensure water resilience."
The natural environment continues to take time to recuperate from the impacts of last summer and the Environment Agency is also focusing ongoing efforts on monitoring how well fish and invertebrates are recovering from drought. As of 16 May, the total reservoir capacity across England was at 92%. This compares with 49% at the end of September 2022, when reservoirs were at their lowest following the drought through summer. Almost all river flows are normal or higher for this time of year.
National Drought Group members are continuing to plan ahead in case of another unprecedented summer and are managing water resources to reduce the risk of drought measures being required again this year.
National Drought Group members heard that:
- With climate change causing the UK’s weather patterns to become increasingly unpredictable, we must act now whilst we’re in an improved position to help secure our water resources into the future.
- Water companies, retailers and regulators must learn from the response to the 2022 drought and plan ahead to better respond to future droughts. They are expected to demonstrate more actions to help conserve water in areas of drought for the benefit of customers, other water users and the environment.
- The Environment Agency, Defra, the National Farmers Union and the agriculture sector have worked together to plan support for farmers in East Anglia. This includes regular updates on the prospects for irrigation and the Environment Agency introducing water abstraction e-alerts to help optimise water availability. A new multi-sector Water Resources East Dry Weather Group will meet regularly and work together to collectively help identify local opportunities for support.