Drought group warns of risk of spring hosepipe bans if winter is dry

If winter rainfall is below average, water restrictions on water company customers are likely in spring 2019. That was one message from the latest meeting of the National Drought Group (NDG), which took place on 20 September.

The group confirmed there is no threat to essential water supplies and that restrictions are unlikely this autumn, but that “current environmental situation is fragile and dependent on good rainfall over the autumn and winter period”.

At the end of August, overall reservoir stocks were at 65%. In a statement, the chair of the NDG, the Environment Agency’s chief executive Sir James Bevan, said significant number of reservoirs in the area around Manchester, Sheffield and Stoke-on-Trent are very low and that there is continuing localised drought risk in some areas of the Pennines, Yorkshire, Manchester, Sheffield, Stoke and parts of central England.

The NDG further reported the full impact of the summer heatwave is yet to be felt, with a delay on damage to some species and crops. “With very dry soils, especially in the south east of England, there may be a delay refilling groundwater aquifers and reservoirs over the coming months. A delay in recharge may mean we start spring 2019 with below average groundwater levels, increasing the risk of drought in the east and south east of England next summer.”

The chairman’s statement also set out a range of steps water companies and others are taking to reduce the risk of restrictions. This included reducing leakage, capturing and storing as much water as possible over winter, identifying new water sources, setting up water transfers between companies and other operational contingency measures. “The action also covers preparing applications for drought permits should these prove necessary in the coming months, and continuing to communicate with customers the latest water resources position and encouraging their customers to use water wisely, including by encouraging moves to more metering.”

The Environment Agency confirmed that it will sustain its enhanced activity while the risk persists. Sir James Bevan will also chair the first steering group meeting of the national water resources framework, which will look at long-term pressures facing all sectors, and how to express these to ensure greater water resilience in the future. And the NDG will meet again on 19 November to take stock and agree any further necessary measures going into winter.

The NDG brings together government departments, water companies, environmental groups and others to coordinate action to maintain water supplies and manage the other risks associated with drought.

  • In response to a Parliamentary question from shadow health minister, Justin Madders, on how much water has been lost to leakage over the past 10 years, water minister Therese Coffey, provided the following figures for the English companies:

Date Leakage (Ml/d)

2008-09: 3088

2009-10: 3084

2010-11: 3156

2011-12: 2949

2012-13: 2963

2013-14: 2916

2014-15: 2942

2015-16: 2896

2016-17: 2918

2017-18: 2986