Is Britain at risk of a drought and will there be a garden hose ban?

Is Britain at risk of a drought and will there be a garden hose ban?

England and Wales had their driest start to the year since 1976 – when water rationing was introduced.

It has raised concerns that Britain could be heading for a drought.

Why were there drought warnings in 2022?

The National Drought Group put England on ‘prolonged dry weather’ status at an emergency meeting.

In the first three months of the year, rainfall fell by 26% in England and 22% in Wales.

This resulted in average river discharges “below normal” or “extraordinarily low” even before the start of summer.

Chart showing the ten hottest days in the UK since 1900

Chart showing the ten hottest days in the UK since 1900

Temperature records were broken several times in July and precipitation fell by 76%. Further periods of dry and hot weather are forecast by the Met Office.

These conditions were made worse by excessive water consumption. More than 28% of underground water sources are being overexploited, the government says.

What is a drought?

A drought is declared by the Environment Agency, which is coordinating the national response with water companies.

Many people define a drought as being without water for an extended period of time.

But the Royal Meteorological Society says it’s not always that simple. For example, droughts can occur in agriculture when there is not enough water to grow crops.

Could there be a hose ban?

Individual water suppliers are allowed to introduce hose bans in order to reduce water demand.

These can be announced in response to low flow levels.

Southern Water introduces a hosepipe ban for customers in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight on August 5th.

Other companies have not announced hose bans for the time being – but customers in southern England and the Midlands have been encouraged to use less water.

The BBC understands some companies will once again use their advice following the National Drought Group’s announcement.

What are the effects of the drought?

The consequences of a drought can be:

The National Farmers’ Union is closely monitoring the situation. Berry growers have previously reported losing part of their harvest.

Vegetables like potatoes, due to be harvested next month, are particularly at risk due to their high water content.

The effects could be felt into next year as farmers delay planting crops like canola because the soil is too dry.

Recent record high temperatures and very dry conditions have resulted in multiple fires with extensive damage to homes and grasslands.

The Environment Agency oversees the management of underwater life in the UK and will move fish to other rivers if water levels fall too low – as happened in Yorkshire in July.

Outside the UK, places like northern Italy and Portugal declared drought emergencies and imposed water restrictions earlier in the summer.

France, Spain and Portugal also faced significant forest fires due to the drought.

Graphic showing four ways to save water at home

Graphic showing four ways to save water at home

What happened in the droughts of 1976 and 2018?

In 1976 and 2018, the UK experienced months of severe drought.

They were caused by a prolonged dry spell in spring and then an unusually warm summer.

In 1976, the Drought Act created emergency powers to shut off domestic and industrial water supplies.

In 2018, widespread drought resulted in crop failures that pushed up food prices. Several water restrictions have been put in place.

This year saw similar conditions with little rainfall and above average temperatures in July.

Conditions in August will be a major factor in determining whether the UK falls into another drought.

Could we see more droughts in the future?

The National Infrastructure Commission – which advises the government – recently said there could be more water shortages in the future due to population growth and climate change.

It called for changes in water use and a reduction in water losses.

Up to three billion liters of water are lost in the UK every day – enough to feed 20 million people.

The government’s 25-year environmental plan aims to address these issues by investing in existing infrastructure and improving efficiency in homes and businesses.

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