Water could be rationed as drought declared across parts of England and tankers arrive in first villages

12 August 2022, 07:02 | Updated: 12 August 2022, 12:47

Drought status has been declared for swathes of England as dry and hot weather continues
Drought status has been declared for swathes of England as dry and hot weather continues. Picture: Various

By Sophie Barnett

Droughts have been declared across parts of England as people and businesses have been urged to use their water "wisely".

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Parts of South West, Southern and Central England and the East of England have been put under the status.

Water supplies "will remain resilient", the National Drought Group has said, but it follows the driest summer in 50 years. The group, made up of senior figures from the Environment Agency, Government, water businesses and other key groups, joined by water minister Steve Double, met on Friday ahead of the announcement.

More severe measures can also be put in place under drought status, including banning the use of sprinklers the cleaning of buildings, vehicles and windows.

The drought group has discussed future risks and said it will work across sectors to balance water needs and conserve supply.

The Environment Agency told the group the threshold that triggers drought status has been crossed for parts of England, based on criteria including rainfall and reservoir levels.

Read more: Staggering satellite images show scale of Britain's heatwave as drought set to be announced

Read more: Drought to be declared in parts of England amid warning of 'exceptional' risk of wildfires

England has hit an intense dry spell
England has hit an intense dry spell. Picture: Getty

Drought status does not automatically trigger action but it does mean the agency and water companies will step up what they do "and press ahead with implementing the stages of their pre-agreed drought plans", a statement said. The last drought in England was in 2018.

"In drought affected areas the public and businesses should be very mindful of the pressures on water resources and should use water wisely," the statement added.

"But while there is an important role for individuals to sustainably manage their usage, Government expects water companies to act to reduce leakage and fix leaking pipes as quickly as possible and take wider action alongside government policy."

Mr Double said: "All water companies have reassured us that essential supplies are still safe, and we have made it clear it is their duty to maintain those supplies", he said.

"We are better prepared than ever before for periods of dry weather, but we will continue to closely monitor the situation, including impacts on farmers and the environment, and take further action as needed."

A village on the border of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire became the first place to run out of water on Thursday following days of hot conditions and extremely high temperatures.

Residents of Northend said they were "frustrated" after having to rely on tanker and bottled water after their reservoir ran dry - meaning they were unable to take a shower or use the dishwasher.

A tanker was brought in by Thames Water to pump 19,000 litres of water into the system and bottled water was handed out to residents.

It comes as a drought is set to be declared in parts of Britain amid the prolonged dry weather, with an amber 'extreme heat' warning in place until Sunday, with warnings of health impacts and disruption to travel.

There are expectations drought could be declared for the most affected areas of England in the south and east, after the driest July on record for some areas and the driest first half of the year since 1976.

It will see the Environment Agency and water companies implementing more of their plans to manage the impacts of low water levels, which can include actions such as hosepipe bans.

The National Drought Group, made up of Government and agency officials, water companies and other groups such as the National Farmers' Union (NFU), is set to meet on Friday to discuss the prolonged dry weather.

By Friday afternoon, temperatures are to soar as high as 35C in southern areas of the UK, which will be hotter than the Bahamas, Jamaica and Barbados.

Forecaster Craig Snell said: "It's going to be an incredibly hot day, and very sunny across the board, with temperatures slightly higher than what we saw on Thursday."

There is also a heat-health alert in place from the UK Health Security Agency (UKSA), with experts advising people to look out for those who are older or with existing health conditions, as well as young children.

Reporter explains why UK is facing drought warning

The ongoing dry conditions, combined with last month's record-breaking heatwave, have depleted rivers, reservoirs and aquifers.

Yorkshire Water has become the fifth water company in England and Wales to announce a hosepipe ban, saying that recent weather conditions left it with little other choice.

Thames Water, Welsh Water (Dwr Cymru), Southern Water and South East Water all previously signalled hosepipe bans would be necessary while the Wildlife Trusts have called for an England-wide hosepipe ban to protect nature and rivers.

Temperatures reached 34.2C at Wiggonholt, West Sussex, on Thursday afternoon, while many areas in southern England and Wales hit the low 30s.

Fires broke out in different areas, including London, Essex, Gloucestershire, Surrey and Cheshire.