Tory leadership contender Rishi Sunak has set out measures which he claims will boost the UK’s resilience to drought.
The announcement comes as drought is expected to be declared for some parts of England, as another heatwave scorches the country after months of low rainfall.
Warnings are in place over the health impacts of extreme heat and the risk of wildfires, as temperatures are expected to climb as high as 36C in some areas.
Mr Sunak said: “For too long, water hasn’t had the attention that it deserves. We are living through some of the driest conditions in decades, and we need to make sure that measures to boost resilience to extreme weather conditions are part of our holistic plan for water – to protect its supply and clean it up.
“Water companies can and must step up to address leakage and mains bursts, which are contributing factors to consumer disruption including hosepipe bans. When it comes to enforcement, nothing is off the table.”
He added: “Our farmers are becoming increasingly concerned about crop failure and wildfires in these extreme conditions.
“We must make sure that we are incentivising them – through schemes like the Farming Transformation Fund and Farming Equipment and Technology Fund – to invest in water storage and technology like trickle irrigation to make more efficient use of water.
“I would also build the resilience of our water infrastructure, encouraging private investment and fast tracking approvals for alterations to reservoirs and water recycling facilities as well as new projects.”
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.
The ongoing dry conditions, combined with last month’s record-breaking heatwave, have depleted rivers, reservoirs and aquifers and dried up soils, hitting agriculture, water supplies and wildlife and raising the risk of wildfires.
Meanwhile, a four-day amber warning for extreme heat from the Met Office is in place for much of England and Wales until Sunday, with warnings of health impacts and disruption to travel.