Water companies in the south and east of England are facing the unprecedented situation of applying for drought permits after a severe lack of rainfall.
Dry winter conditions and low water levels have plagued the south and east of England throughout 2011,
and water firm Anglian Water last week took the decision to seek a drought permit.
The Environment Agency said the permit was justified because Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and West Norfolk have reported the lowest yearly rainfall levels since 1921.
The permit allows Anglian Water to take water out from the River Nene to top up its 54% full Pitford Reservoir until the end of March. Experts told NCE that if the dry winter continues, more drought permits are likely to be sought because river and reservoir levels across south east England are well below average.
They had already warned of the disruption and threat from droughts in the summer (NCE 16 June).
“[The UK] should be expecting longer periods of drought, and heavier periods of rainfall”
ICE water panel chairman Michael Norton
ICE water panel chairman Michael Norton said the latest drought problems were “a glimpse of what will happen if climate change comes to fruition”.
“[The UK] should be expecting longer periods of drought, and heavier periods of rainfall,” he said.
Norton said that the general population would face water restrictions like hosepipe bans, but that the farming industry would likely bear the brunt of the restrictions because it is a heavy user in south and east England.
Aecom Water regional director Peter Robinson said that household water use had to be rethought as the population of the south east of England is projected to grow over the next 25 years.
Robinson said it was infeasible for water companies to rely on building new reservoirs to provide water storage capacity because of the difficulty of getting them through the planning process.
“Rainwater harvesting schemes need to be used on housing,” he said. “But the problem is that even a lot of new build houses do not have this technology.”