Press Releases

PRESS RELEASE : Action on preparing for drought must remain, experts warn [July 2023]

The press release issued by the Environment Agency on 20 July 2023.

National Drought Group reiterates the importance of continuing to work together to prepare for all weather eventualities and future droughts.

As many parts of the world experience extreme heatwaves and severe drought, the Environment Agency will continue to prepare for all weather eventualities for the rest of summer and autumn, it confirmed this week.

At this week’s meeting of the National Drought Group (Wednesday 19 July) – chaired by Environment Agency Executive Director John Leyland – senior decision-makers from the Environment Agency, government, water companies and key farming and environmental groups discussed how to best manage water resources and ensure preparedness if hot, dry weather returns to this country.

The group also discussed how we can no longer rely on past weather patterns and that the best time to conserve water is when it is raining.

National Drought Group members heard that:

  • Following the hottest June on record, July has started wet in many places. Rivers that were struggling with low flows have responded with most now back into normal ranges.
  • Despite recent wet weather, the Environment Agency continues to prepare for all weather eventualities for the rest of summer and autumn. This includes closely monitoring the environment and ensuring we understand the risks if dry weather returned.
  • In June, the Environment Agency attended 58 incidents, including rescuing fish and deploying aerators, which are used to oxygenate water. Fishery owners were prepared for such events, as a result of advice given by the Environment Agency.
  • The Environment Agency is working with South West Water to investigate and potentially open up new sources of water to help improve the drought situation.
  • The Environment Agency is encouraging farmers to review their water needs and apply for changes to abstraction licences if necessary.

Environment Agency Executive Director and NDG Chair John Leyland said:

Our climate is changing – this year we’ve seen more record-breaking temperatures in the UK, historically wet months followed by historically dry months, and an extreme heatwave sweeping through southern Europe. Yesterday is no longer a reliable predictor of tomorrow – together we must adapt to ensure we, and our water supplies, are resilient into the future. Preparation starts when it is raining; we must all use the wet weather to conserve water.

The Environment Agency will continue to work collaboratively across the water sector to manage drought risk, including ensuring water companies implement their drought plans, managing abstraction licenses and helping farmers to manage resources.

As ever, it is important that we all continue to use water carefully to protect not just our water resources, but our environment and wildlife for now and future generations.

Water Minister Rebecca Pow said:

With demand for water growing and challenges from climate change, this government is acting now to ensure England’s water system is resilient and prepared for future droughts.

Through our Plan for Water, we are funding more on-farm reservoirs and better irrigation equipment for farmers, have secured significant investment to increase our water resilience, and are ensuring key water supply infrastructure, such as reservoirs, can be built more quickly.

Whilst we all have an important role to play in preserving water resources, water companies must also step up their efforts, including by reducing leakage and encouraging water efficiency.

The meeting coincides with Waterwise’s Dry July campaign, which is running from 17 – 28 July. The campaign highlights how we can all play our part to use water more wisely and ensure our water consumption is environmentally sustainable.

Waterwise Chief Executive Nicci Russell said:

Last year, some parts of the country saw unprecedented weather conditions with the driest July since the 1930s and scorching heat, the declaration of drought and hosepipe bans for millions of people.

That hot dry weather meant those of us lucky enough to have gardens were using a huge amount of water outside. This year, we’re running our campaign #WaterwiseDryJuly to rally and support people at home and at work. We’re helping everyone to take small and practical actions that will have a massive impact in reducing water consumption – if we all make small changes to how we use water, we can make a huge difference. Get involved today!

Update on the operational outlook

Dry weather in May and early June caused river flows to recede and reservoirs to decline, resulting in two Environment Agency areas – Cumbria and Lancashire, and the West Midlands – entering prolonged dry weather status in June. Recent rainfall over the last three weeks, particularly in north west England, has meant Cumbria and Lancashire has now returned to normal status. Recent rainfall has helped to restore river flows in many parts of the country and reduced temperatures in the water environment, which has helped fish and other wildlife. However, the National Drought Group warned that the situation could regress if hot, dry weather returns later in the summer.

The natural environment continues to take time to recuperate from the impacts of last summer’s hot and dry weather, with Devon, Cornwall and parts of East Anglia remaining in drought. The Environment Agency anticipates that these areas in drought will not return to normal status until at least winter. As of 19 July, total reservoir capacity across England is 79% full and the July rainfall total so far for England was 65mm.

Hosepipe bans remain in place for Devon and Cornwall to help manage demand with water supply reservoirs still recovering from last year’s drought. Hosepipe bans also remain in place in Kent and Sussex; however, this is due to increased demand for water in hot weather, which is impacting how quickly treated water storage reservoirs can be refilled, not because of drought conditions.

The Plan for Water

The government’s Plan for Water brings together the significant action already taken, along with new measures, that will secure water supplies. This includes:

  • £2.2 billion of new, accelerated investment by water companies to spend on infrastructure to tackle pollution and increase our water resilience.
  • A second £10m round of Water Management Grants to fund more on-farm reservoirs and better irrigation equipment.
  • A new National Policy Statement on water resources so that key water supply infrastructure – such as reservoirs and water transfer schemes – can be built more quickly.
  • Unlocking an additional £469 million of investment to develop new large-scale water infrastructure, including transfers, recycling, and reservoirs through the Regulators Alliance for Progressing Infrastructure Development (RAPID) programme.
  • Actions to meet our statutory water demand target to reduce the use of public water supply by 20% per person by 2038. This includes encouraging water companies to consider how to rapidly increase smart meter installations for household and non-household customers and delivering a mandatory water efficiency label on water-using products by 2025.