Environment Agency
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Heavy rain results in review of drought-affected areas

The Environment Agency recently published its weekly drought update.

The wettest April on record and continuing rainfall in May have significantly increased river and reservoir levels, reducing pressure on the environment and public water supplies in some parts of England.

These indicators have led the Environment Agency to remove the drought status for certain areas. Though it stressed that groundwater supplies remain low across the country.

The organisation said that South West England, the Midlands and parts of Yorkshire are no longer in drought due to the recent rainfall. It is unlikely that water companies will now impose hosepipe bans in these areas over the summer. Parts of East Anglia and South East England remain in drought, with water company restrictions in place on public water use.

Wettest April

The Met Office announced that last month was the wettest April since records began. The rainfall has restored many rivers and reservoirs, easing the pressure on the environment, and has been welcomed by farmers, gardeners and water companies.

The Environment Agency will continue to keep drought status under continuous review. It stressed that low groundwater levels remain a concern across England, with many still around 1976 levels and unlikely to return to normal levels before winter.

In the areas of the country experiencing temporary restrictions, around 50 per cent of the public water supply is provided by groundwater sources. Many rivers rely on groundwater (springs) to provide flow in dry periods. A return to dry weather could lead to restrictions for farmers and problems for the environment later in the year.

Until the start of April, England had 18 months of very low rainfall - the driest on record in some areas. The Environment Agency has published regular drought updates since 2011, analysing the impacts of rainfall on key indicators such as soil moisture, reservoir stocks, river flows and groundwater levels.

In the week ending 6 April, the Environment Agency’s weekly
water situation report showed:

  • Rainfall at between 29-68 per cent of average for March
  • River flows below normal or lower at every indicator site in England
  • Reservoir stocks below normal or notably low at 65 per cent of indicator sites in England
  • Groundwater levels below normal or lower at all but four indicator sites (84 per cent), with 12 sites rated exceptionally low in England.

After the persistent and heavy rain of recent weeks, the Environment Agency’s weekly water situation report for week ending 11 May showed:

  • The most rainfall in April in over 100 years
  • River flows notably or exceptionally high at 48 per cent of indicator sites across England
  • Many reservoirs are recovering
  • Groundwater levels still exceptionally low in 42 per cent of indicator sites in England.

Review of water availability

Based on these indicators, the Environment Agency has reviewed water availability in different areas, to reflect the impact that the heavy rainfall has had on agriculture, the environment and public water supplies.

Dr Paul Leinster, Environment Agency Chief Executive, said: 'Water resources across England and Wales are kept constantly under review. The recent record rainfall has eased pressure on water resources in some parts of England, helping levels in rivers and reservoirs to recover and providing relief to farmers, gardeners and wildlife.

'The Environment Agency will continue to keep a close eye on the situation. Low groundwater levels remain a concern across many parts of England, with many still at a similar level to those in 1976 and unlikely to return to normal levels before the winter. A return to a long period of dry weather would increase the risk again.'

The 19 areas that are no longer in drought are South Yorkshire, East Yorkshire, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Bristol, Parts of Gloucestershire, Parts of Hampshire, most of Wiltshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, West Midlands, Warwickshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire.

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