Water companies do not expect to bring in hosepipe bans this summer despite recent dry conditions.
At a meeting with Environment Agency chief executive Sir James Bevan to assess the situation ahead of summer, utilities confirmed they do not expect to have to bring in restrictions unless the next few months are “exceptionally dry”.
The meeting comes after last year’s heatwave was followed by a dry winter and lower than average rainfall in spring, raising concerns over water resources in England this summer.
Low rainfall in April and May, particularly in the east of England, has meant river flows have fallen to lower than normal for the time of year and in the south and east rainfall has not replenished groundwater stores, with levels now declining.
It will be some time before conditions can return to normal and rainfall over the next few weeks will not be sufficient, the Environment Agency has warned.
While the Government agency said there was no threat to the public water supply, the dry conditions were putting “particular pressure” on the environment and agriculture.
The low rainfall is causing concern over the availability of water for irrigation, particularly in the east of England, and farmers are working with authorities to sustain production in the dry conditions, the Environment Agency said.
Farmers have already warned they are “vulnerable” to dry conditions this year after last year’s drought and low rainfall in winter, when soils did not become full of moisture again.
There have been environmental issues including algae blooms and wildfires comparatively early in the year, and important chalk stream habitats could be hit by ongoing dry weather, the Environment Agency said.
Despite the lack of full recovery in water resources after last summer’s drought, most water companies report having good reservoir storage for the summer.
One or two companies may need to apply for drought permits later in the year, which would allow them to take more water than usual from rivers or boreholes.
There was a warning from the Environment Agency, however, that a third dry winter in a row in 2019-2020 would cause significant problems for summer 2020.
At the meeting, water companies set out the actions they are taking in the coming months, including refilling reservoirs where possible, tackling leaks, and making water transfers round their network and between companies.
People are being asked to use water wisely.
Sir James said the National Drought Group, which brings together Government departments, water companies, environmental groups and others, had met to agree action to reduce the risk of drought measures and damage to the environment.
He said: “Some rivers and groundwater supplies are below average so the Environment Agency is ready to respond to incidents over the summer and we are supporting farmers where possible by flexing water abstraction licences and with water trading.
“We welcome action the water companies are taking to ensure maintenance of supply over the coming months.
“The water that comes from the tap is taken from rivers and reservoirs and the amount we use has direct effect on wildlife, the environment and agriculture.
“The National Drought Group collectively asks industry and the public to use water wisely.”