Action should be taken now to protect water supplies for business, agriculture, the environment and people - thereby minimising the risk of water restrictions in the future, says a new report from the Environment Agency.
It recommends that more farmers should invest in winter storage and that water companies plan ahead for more long, dry periods and continue running campaigns to encourage customers to reduce water.
The Drought Prospects report was commissioned by Defra in response to the recent widespread drought across eastern England. It has been sent to the Secretary of State, Caroline Spelman.
The report shows that a dry winter could lead to significant problems in drought-hit areas next year and urges action to minimise the impacts.
This year’s drought has left public water supplies largely unaffected. However, businesses which pump water from rivers have seen some restrictions put in place to prevent damage to the environment. Farmers have been hardest hit, since they rely heavily on abstractions from rivers to irrigate crops during the spring and summer.
Key findings and recommendations
The Environment Agency report includes the following key findings and recommendations:
* Water companies in drought affected areas should follow their drought plans which include co-ordinated campaigns for using water wisely, targeted at domestic and business users.
* Water companies should also prepare plans based on different rainfall scenarios that might occur during the winter, so they are ready to take action if necessary
* Farmers should act now to consider how to meet their future water needs. They can become more drought resilient by constructing reservoirs – those farmers who do not have a winter storage reservoir should investigate whether building one is feasible and possible sources of financial support.
* Farmers need to work together to develop solutions to ensure current supplies last as long as possible. This could include the continuation of ‘water cooperatives’ to share water and applying voluntary restrictions when required to avoid formal measures.
The Environment Agency said that timely and prudent actions taken now will maximise the ability of the public, farmers, businesses and the environment to withstand the impacts of any long drought.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said:
“While we have had some much needed rain in recent weeks, events like this year’s drought could become ever more common and all the main players; water companies, farmers and consumers will have a role in dealing with this in the future. I asked for this report so we can be better prepared in the future. The recommendations will inform our White Paper that will lay out our plans to deliver affordable, efficient and sustainable water use.”
Lord Chris Smith, Chairman of the Environment Agency said:
“This year’s drought, despite recent rain in some parts of the country, has been a wake-up call. It has been tough for many farmers and we are working hard to find ways to help them, while also protecting the environment.
“We are better prepared than ever for extreme drought, but there is always more that can and should be done. Our report urges water companies, farmers and other businesses to look again at ways to store water and reduce and share the amount they use.
“Leading companies are already implementing water efficiency plans which will also help reduce their costs and carbon footprint. There is a careful balance to be struck to meet the water needs of businesses, farmers, households and the environment and everyone has a part to play.”