Sector grapples with highest ever water demand

The National Drought Group met on Friday, to discuss the combined pressures of glorious summer weather and the ongoing semi-lockdown in the week that Water UK reported that the industry was experiencing the highest ever demand for water.

With an extra 2.25bn litres being consumed every day people on average were using 20% more than usual and in some areas this extra consumption has reached 40% – mainly due to watering gardens, with peak usage hours 6pm-10pm.

This came as the Met Office said May 2020 has been the sunniest calendar month on record with 266 hours of sunshine, beating the previous record of 265 hours in June 1957. It has also been the driest May in England and second driest in Wales with 9.6mm and 14.3mm respectively, which are both just 17% of the average rainfall for May.

The NDG reported: “Following the extremely wet winter which replenished depleted groundwater aquifers, a period of prolonged hot and dry weather has rapidly reduced river flows and dried out soils. This is particularly the case in areas such as north-west England which are more reliant on surface water supplies, making them naturally less resilient to exceptionally low rainfall.”

It said of water companies: “In some cases this has created a challenge for companies to treat and distribute enough water to meet demand. This is expected to continue as more people stay at home over the summer compared to previous years. Water companies will need to continue to focus their efforts on driving down water demand, driving down leakage and maximising their networks. They will continue to work with agriculture and other sectors to share the water that is available.” Water companies across the country and Water UK have stepped up wise water use messaging, with some tying that in with World Environment Day, which was on Friday.

The Environment Agency, which chaired the NDG meeting, listed the actions it was taking, including following drought plans and carrying out fish rescues where flows are dangerously low. Of agriculture it reported: “Hands off flow conditions are being reached on some agriculture abstraction licences and more of these are likely to be triggered with continued dry weather.”

On the environment, the NDG said: “Throughout the summer we will continue to report and respond to incidents and watch closely for signs of environmental harm. We also recognise that after three years of prolonged dry weather the winter rainfall has provided a fragile recovery. In our chalk streams, the groundwater recharge has enabled flows to return and a positive potential buffer for drier months ahead, but there are still hotspots where rivers are dry and receding. In surface water-dominated catchments in the north and south west, current low flows present an environmental risk.”