National Drought Group – EA Chairman’s Statement - March 2019

19 Mar 2019 01:08 PM

The National Drought Group (NDG) met on Monday 18 March, chaired by Harvey Bradshaw, Executive Director at the Environment Agency, to assess the latest water resource situation and actions being taken to reduce risk for the summer.

The National Drought Group (NDG) brings together government departments, water companies, environmental groups and others with a role to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of dry weather to coordinate action to maintain water supplies, consider water users and protect the environment.

Current situation

So far in 2019 there has been significant variation in the water resources situation in most parts of England. January started very dry and despite a wet end, received only 46% of average rainfall. The rain continued into February but a dry end to the month meant England only received 84% of its average rainfall. To the surprise of many, thermometers hit record temperatures on the 25 and 26 February, with a new record being set of 21.2C at Kew Gardens, London.

Groundwater levels are refilled over the longer term so many parts of the country are in recovery and refill mode after the heatwave in 2018 – making this winter refill season important.

The recent rainfall has helped but has not been enough to bring groundwater back to a normal position for the time of year across an area stretching from Reading to Norfolk.

Rivers have responded quickly to the recent wet weather but a return to drier conditions would see them drop quickly again.

Today at the NDG, we heard that farmers across all sectors are nervous about the risk of drought in 2019 and below average rainfall will reduce production and increase costs for most of them. On the plus side, the warmer weather has been good for many, with good germination and early establishment of crops while those with livestock have been able to move onto the land reducing feed and bedding costs.

A wet end to spring would be beneficial for agriculture and the environment.

In response to the overall dry start to the year, the Environment Agency is taking the following actions:

Despite the lack of full recovery in the water resources position from winter refill so far, most water companies confirmed to the group they would not need to bring in household water restrictions in the summer unless the spring and summer were exceptionally dry. However another dry winter in 2019/20 would cause widespread problems for summer 2020.

Water UK reported that the water resource situation across the UK is currently stable but companies are preparing for all possible situations ahead of the summer.

Specific activities to manage the dry weather were explained by water companies as:

Conclusions and next steps:

The recent rain has helped but it is not enough to replenish groundwater back to a normal level for the time of year. Although water companies do not currently expect any restrictions this summer, the NDG members expressed concerns about pressure on farmers and the environment. NDG encouraged all members to work together to reduce the risks and impacts of dry weather and drought. We encourage sharing and trading of water as a number of members did in 2018. One area there should be closer work on is communications between all members. There are continued campaigns to promote better water efficiency and the group discussed more ambitious plans to change attitudes to wasting clean water and increase understanding of the long term risk of water scarcity if action isn’t taken.