Where has a drought been declared and what does it mean?

Low water levels in Colliford Lake near Bodmin

Low water levels in Colliford Lake near Bodmin

South West Wales has become the latest part of the UK to be declared drought.

It follows an unusually dry period and hot summer in many areas.

Where are the drought areas?

Along with much of South West Wales, nine regions of England are in drought:

The Environment Agency (EA) says the West Midlands could also be declared a drought area in the near future.

Map showing drought areas in England and Wales

Map showing drought areas in England and Wales

Separately, Northern Ireland Water called on the UK government to introduce drought measures.

The Scottish Environment Agency has temporarily banned farmers in areas of Fife from using water from the River Eden on their fields.

What is drought?

The Environment Agency decides whether to declare a drought after talking to water companies, government officials and groups, including farmers’ representatives.

It examines data including rainfall, river flows, groundwater levels, reservoir levels and soil dryness.

The EA’s latest state of water report shows some river levels are the lowest ever recorded.

Graphic showing four ways to save water at home

Graphic showing four ways to save water at home

What happens when a drought is declared?

Declaring a drought in a certain area does not oblige water companies to limit water use.

However, this means they are putting predetermined drought plans in place, which may include temporary bans on things like hoses and lawn sprinklers.

Map showing tire ban areas as of August 17

Map showing tire ban areas as of August 17

Other possible options include:

  • receiving more water than usual from the rivers

  • using desalination plants, such as the one in London

  • cutting unnecessary water use beyond pipe bans;

The EA is also urging water companies to act to reduce leaking pipes as soon as possible.

Why are there droughts in Britain this year?

In the first three months of the year, rainfall in England fell by 26%, while in Wales it fell by 22%.

This meant that even before summer began, average river flows were “below normal” or “extremely low”.

Chart showing the ten hottest days in the UK since 1900

Chart showing the ten hottest days in the UK since 1900

In July, rainfall was a quarter of the normal level.

Excessive use of water has worsened the situation. The government says more than a quarter of the UK’s groundwater sources have too much water taken from them.

What problems do droughts cause?

The effects of drought can include:

Berry farmers reported losing part of their crop.

Vegetables such as potatoes are at particular risk due to their high water content.

Farmers are delaying planting next year’s crops such as canola due to dry soil.

Sheep and lambs suffer from malnutrition.

There have been many fires, with significant damage to houses and pastures.

London Fire Brigade tackled 340 grassland fires in the first week of August – eight times more than they had to deal with in the same week last year.

Due to the high risk of fires, some stores have taken disposable barbecues off the shelves.

Map showing areas of the UK at risk of fire due to dry weather

Map showing areas of the UK at risk of fire due to dry weather

In Surrey and Yorkshire, the Environment Agency has had to move fish from drying up rivers to deeper and colder water.

What happened to the droughts of 1976 and 2018?

In 1976 and 2018 the UK experienced severe droughts lasting months, caused by dry springs and very hot summers.

The government was given emergency powers under Drought Act 176 to cut off domestic and industrial water supplies.

In 2018, drought led to crop failures, which increased food prices. Multiple water restrictions were imposed.

Could we see more droughts in the future?

The National Infrastructure Commission – which advises the UK government – says there could be more droughts in the future due to population growth and climate change.

He asked people to use less water and water companies to let less leak.

It is thought that up to three billion liters of water is lost in the UK every day.

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