Wildlife and Ag Disaster Looms as UK Drought Deepens
April 16, 2012
As the US has seen one of the strangest springs ever, the UK sinks into one of the driest seasons in memory. The continuing whipsaw from one extreme to another will be the subject of my two new videos, to be released later today.
Though most of the South and East is in desperate need of rain, with hosepipe bans in place, if the deluge comes at once it could be more of a danger than a blessing.
April showers are expected to continue over the next few weeks. The real risk is at the end of summer when the ground is likely to be baked hard.
At the end of the last major water shortage in 1976, the minister of drought, Denis Howell, became minister of floods within days of his appointment as the heavens opened. The floods in the summer of 2007 also came after two years of dry weather made the ground hard. At the moment most of the east of the country, from the Humber to Kent, is in drought.
Four months of sustained rainfall will be required to refill reservoirs and rivers that are lower than they were in 1976.
Most of England is now in drought and the dry spell could last beyond Christmas, the Environment Agency will announce on Monday, as government officials started planning for a long-term water shortage that could be disastrous for wildlife, the landscape and farming.
Large swaths of the Midlands and the south-west have entered officialdrought status, meaning water companies in those areas can apply to place restrictions on water use for households and businesses. This could mean an extension of the hosepipe bans in the south of England.
The drought now extends from Cornwall to Kent, East Anglia to Shropshire and Herefordshire, and as far north as Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and North Yorkshire. Even parts of Wales – normally one of the wettest parts of the UK – are reporting ill-effects from the dry spell. The smattering of rain in many areas over Easter gave little respite from low river flows and falling groundwater levels, with only England’s northernmost counties still getting enough wet weather.
While rain over the summer and autumn could alleviate the water shortages, officials are planning for the third dry winter in a row, which could devastate wildlife and farming. Only a very wet autumn and winter could prevent the drought stretching into next year. Soils are so dry that they will need a prolonged heavy soaking to recover, while levels at reservoir across much of England are so low they will take time to replenish.
Trevor Bishop, head of water resources at the Environment Agency, warned the outlook was bleak. “A longer term drought, lasting until Christmas and perhaps beyond, now looks more likely, and we are working with businesses, farmers and water companies to plan ahead to meet the challenges of a continued drought,” he said. “While we’ve had some welcome rain recently, the problem has not gone away and we would urge everyone – right across the country – to use water wisely now, which will help prevent more serious impacts next year.”