As England faces the growing specter of drought, here’s a look at what’s happening and how the situation is being handled.
Droughts are natural events that occur when a period of low rainfall creates water scarcity and reduces the water supply for different users.
The Environment Agency (EA) says it’s important to note that there is no single definition.
Although a drought is caused by a period of low rainfall, the nature, timing and effects on people, the environment, agriculture or business vary.
Some droughts are short and intense – for example a hot, dry summer – while others are long and slow to develop over several seasons.
– Are there levels or stages?
According to the Environment Agency, there are four stages of drought: prolonged dry weather, drought, severe drought, and recovering drought.
– What’s going on in England?
Months of dry weather and recent heat have left much of the country with low river flows, affecting water quality and quantity, with impacts on farmers and other water users, as well as on wildlife.
The soils are also very dry and the level of groundwater and reservoirs is low in some areas.
Much of England is in a state of prolonged dry weather, with drought warnings that could be declared this month if the lack of rainfall continues.
– How much rain have we had?
For England as a whole, it was the driest eight-month period, between November 2021 and June 2022, since the drought year of 1976.
This was followed by the driest July since 1935 for England, while parts of the south and east of the country saw the lowest rainfall on record for the month in data dating back to 1836 .
The south of England is facing more heatwave conditions this week, and forecasts cannot yet predict whether there will be significant rainfall for areas that need it next week, the Met Office said. .
– What measures can water companies take to manage demand?
Two water companies – Southern Water and South East Water – have already announced hosepipe bans.
The Southern Water restrictions for Hampshire and Isle of Wight customers began last week and the South East Water ban for Kent and Sussex comes into effect on Friday.
A company does not need any approval to restrict water uses, but must run a public notice period and allow representations to be made before the restrictions take effect.
Other companies have warned they could also impose restrictions if the dry conditions continue.
And households are urged to avoid unnecessary water consumption, swap the garden hose for a watering can even where there is no ban, take shorter showers and let lawns turn brown.
– When was the last drought?
The last declared drought dates back to 2018.
Other notable droughts occurred from 1975 to 1976, 1989 to 1992, 1995 to 1996, 2004 to 2006, and 2010 to 2012.
A severe drought occurred from May 1975 to August 1976, when a dry winter in 1975-76 was followed by an extremely hot and dry summer.
– So are we in 1976 territory?
No. While the temperatures seen during the July heatwave are much higher than those of 1976 – due to climate change making heatwaves more intense today – the drought situation is not as severe.
The Met Office said that despite the drought trend in 2022, England received 30% more rain in the first six months of the year than 46 years ago.
Water companies are warning that there must be enough rain this fall and winter – when less is absorbed by growing plants – in order to recharge groundwater aquifers and reservoirs before next year.
A second dry winter could significantly worsen the situation.