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Downpours do nothing to ease drought - Environment Agency

The recent wet weather sweeping the UK has done little to restore groundwater supplies and relieve drought conditions, the Environment Agency has warned.

Its latest drought management briefing, released on Friday, confirms that groundwater levels remain low, with 14 sites now exceptionally low for the time of year, an increase of one on its last situation report.

The briefing notes that it has been a very wet week across England and Wales, with especially heavy rainfall in southern England. The South East and South West Regions received 42mm and 55mm of rainfall respectively; as a result soil moisture deficits have decreased in all regions.

River flows are now normal for the time of year at over half its indicator sites but groundwater levels remain low and many reservoirs are still short of water. Stocks are now normal for the time of year at about a third of reported reservoirs, with four now exceptionally low for the time of year.

South East Water’s Ardingly reservoir is currently at 56% capacity and Southern Water’s Bewl Water is at 53% capacity.

“We’ve had a lot of rain this past week, which is a welcome boost for farmers and gardeners, and has delayed the need for water companies to apply for further drought permits,” said Environment Agency national drought co-ordinator Polly Chancellor. “But with the dry soils most of this rain is either soaked up or, worse still, runs off quickly causing flooding, as we have seen in some areas this week.

“At the moment most of the rain is not reaching down far enough to top up groundwater, which is what we really need to make a difference to the drought. So it is still important that we all continue to use water wisely.”

The south west of England and the Midlands remain in environmental drought. East Anglia, the south east of England and south and east Yorkshire remain in drought. Temporary use bans for customers of seven water companies remain in the south east and east of England.

Readers' comments (6)

  • This report was out of date when published. SW site shows Bewl at 56% on the 26th April. At the rate of rise indicated on their graph ( I would expect it to have been at 60% by 29th! Furthermore at the present rate of rise the level would reach the min 2000-2010 line by the 21st May. Half of that would occur if it stopped raining now.


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  • Barry Walton

    And as the rain continues, the EA and water companies need to bring forward capital resource capture schemes that have sat on company books for so long that the taxman probalby wants them written back as operating expenditure.

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  • Barry Walton

    Also, where was the drought picture taken? That look like a very short shadow on the marker post and where in England do we have these blackend trees and those arid hills?

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  • Having worked on water resources in East Africa in the late seventies, I learned the lesson that floods and droughts go together.

    The floods are brought about by two things: the lack of vegetation to slow down the run off, and the inability of the hard sun burnt earth to absorb water.

    The droughts are brought about by the lack of a local climate to start clouds to make rain.

    I am appalled at the number of gardens in British cities which have no ability to absorb water at all .... how much land has been covered with polythene sheeting [to stop weeds growing] with grass or gravel laid on top.

    bonkers. add in wind farms and lack of nuclear power and i would say that the engineering profession has some thinking to do to convince the rest to start THINKING.

    and we are short of bees - so Glasgow City Council have banned beehives in their parks - on the say so of a few unelected self appointed worthies ... i meant local community councils et al.

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  • We had rainfall on every day in April in Bury St Edmunds (and I am sure we were by no means the only place to do so) with the most intense falls occurring in the last few days. It is surprising to see Ms Chancellor stating that most water is 'soak up runoffs'

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  • Why do we challenge people whose a professional duty is to pronounce the facts? Has ICE turned into a bunch of tabloid red-tops, or even worse, MPs? The simple fact is that both Bewl Water and Ardingly should be 100% full at the end of April in any year. The low groundwater levels will mean that river base flows (the flow rates that return when the floods have gone) will be low too, so that stored water will be used up faster than normal if the summer is even average in sunniness and temperature. Water resource schemes are designed (and financed from the water charges) on the basis of withstanding droughts with a return period of about 50 years. When was the last big drought - about 50 years ago! Simplistic statistics, I know, but it does indicate that the system is operating almost exactly as it has been designed to do.

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