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Severe drought this summer could lead to more hosepipe bans, water firms are warned

Water companies have been warned they must prepare now for another severe heatwave and drought this summer or put millions of customers at risk of hosepipe bans.

The Government’s National Drought Group, consisting of ministers, the Environment Agency, Met Office, water companies and farmers, met on Wednesday to discuss the threat to supplies from “continual shocks and erratic weather patterns” caused by climate change.

Water companies were told they needed to put their drought plans in place now to prevent supplies running short.

Earlier this year, England experienced the driest February in 30 years followed by the wettest March in 40 years. Defra said this demonstrated how companies and the Government could not rely on weather alone to secure sufficient water resources.

Two areas of the country, parts of East Anglia and Devon and Cornwall, remain in drought nearly a year after last summer’s extreme heat and dry period, when temperatures passed 40°C in some parts of the country and rainfall was severely low for months.

The National Drought Group was told that water companies, retailers and regulators “must learn from the response to the 2022 drought and plan ahead to better respond to future droughts”, Defra said.

Action expected includes better and more urgent conservation of water in areas most vulnerable to drought.

Water companies are already under pressure over their failure to stop rivers and beaches being polluted with raw sewage.

Environment Agency chief executive and NDG Chair, John Curtin, said: “This spring’s wet weather continues to improve water availability. But increasingly extreme climate shocks, such as last summer’s hot and dry spell, can change everything in an instant.

“We need to be better prepared for future climate-driven drought, as well as learn from what we have already experienced.

“That is why government, regulators, water companies and all water users will continue to work together, using the latest science and best practice, to ensure our water resources are prepared for more extreme events in the future.”

Water minister Rebecca Pow said: “Whilst recent rain has been a relief for many, it is crucial that we all work together to ease pressures on our precious water supply and increase resilience to drought – everyone has an important role to play.

“The government will continue to work collaboratively with the Environment Agency and industry, and through our Plan for Water, we are ensuring key water supply infrastructure such as reservoirs can be built more quickly. Water companies must better deliver for customers, step up their water resource planning efforts and take precautionary steps to ensure water resilience.”

The Environment Agency is also monitoring the damage done to fish and wildlife as rivers, streams and reservoirs ran dry last year.

Total reservoir capacity across England is currently at 92 per cent, compared to 49 per cent at the end of September 2022.

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