Drought looms for the North West as EA steps up national action

The Environment Agency has said it is preparing for drought in the North West. Last week, United Utilities announced it would impose a hosepipe ban from 5 August, affecting 7m people. The company has applied for two drought permits and one drought order, and is preparing a further three drought permits to be submitted before the end of July.

The drought order is to increase abstraction from Ennerdale Water. United Utilities needs permission from DEFRA because Ennerdale feeds the River Ehen, a Special Area of Conservation. It is requesting to increase, for a period of three months, its present drawdown limit from 1.7 metres to 2.5 metres below the crest of the dam to help safeguard public water supplies within the West Cumbria Resource Zone.

United Utilities has also applied to the Environment Agency for two drought permits, each for six months. The first requests permission to abstract water from Lake Windermere when the flow of the River Leven is lower than permitted under its current abstraction licence. The second would allow continued abstraction from Ullswater when the flow in the River Eamont is lower than permitted under its current abstraction licence.

The firm has faced considerable backlash since announcing the hosepipe ban from some sections of the media, with the restriction linked to leakage, infrastructure underinvestment, profits and executive pay.

Meanwhile, the National Drought Group (NDG), chaired by Environment Agency chief executive Sir James Bevan, met yesterday to discuss the wider operational approach to managing water supplies and to review preparation for the pressures ahead as the prolonged heat and dry weather continues. Water companies told the NDG, made up of 30 organisations including industry, regulators and environmental groups, how they are implementing activity set out in their drought plans.

The Agency said the weather is “taking its toll on the environment, with wildlife suffering as river levels drop. EA teams have responded to 44 significant environmental incidents since the end of June including moorland fires, algal blooms, dry boreholes, low river flows and fish rescues.”