Although more than 70 per cent of the Earth's surface is covered with water, water scarcity is a major problem

Water companies warned to prepare drought plans as UK faces erratic weather

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Water companies have been urged to better prepare the UK for erratic weather patterns that could lead to drought following an unusually dry summer last year.

The government’s National Drought Group (NDG), which is made up of senior decision-makers from the Environment Agency (EA), government, the Met Office and water companies, warned that ongoing action will remain vital for securing the UK’s water supply into the future.

The year saw the driest February for 30 years, followed by the wettest March for 40 years. Furthermore, parts of East Anglia, as well as Devon and Cornwall are both still suffering from minor drought despite average rainfall throughout April.

The Environment Agency is advising water companies to get their drought preparedness plans in order now, as another hot, dry spell could see drought conditions return.

EA chief executive and NDG chair John Curtin said: “This spring’s wet weather continues to improve water availability. But increasingly extreme climate shocks, such as last summer’s hot and dry spell, can change everything in an instant.

“We need to be better prepared for future climate-driven drought, as well as learn from what we have already experienced. That is why government, regulators, water companies and all water users will continue to work together, using the latest science and best practice, to ensure our water resources are prepared for more extreme events in the future.”

The NDG urged water companies, retailers and regulators to learn from the response to the 2022 drought and plan ahead. They are expected to demonstrate more actions to help conserve water in areas of drought. 

It also said that satellite data could be used to assess the moisture content of crops and soil, which can be compared with any irrigation restrictions in the area. This may indicate whether heavy water users are working within their licence conditions and assist the EA with compliance checks.

As of 16 May, reservoir capacity across England stood at 92 per cent, compared with 49 per cent at the end of September, when they were at their lowest.

Water minister Rebecca Pow said: “Whilst recent rain has been a relief for many, it is crucial that we all work together to ease pressures on our precious water supply and increase resilience to drought - everyone has an important role to play.

“Water companies must better deliver for customers, step up their water resource planning efforts and take precautionary steps to ensure water resilience.”

In March, a House of Lords committee urged regulators to go further to hold water companies to account for environmental pollution through penalties and prosecution.

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