In its Drought Prospects report for the autumn and winter of 2012-13, the Environment Agency (EA) has welcomed the positive aspects of the wettest April on record and the continuing rainfall in early May. In some parts of the country, above ground water resources such as rivers and reservoirs, are now back to normal levels and the pressure on the environment has eased. In other areas, the effects of the longer term drought remain, with the recent rainfall yet to influence a number of the important underground resources.
In many areas of England resources remain a concern, and it will take more time and more rain to undo the effects of below average rainfall over the past 20 months. Some remain at their lowest recorded levels. The EA advises that in the areas with low underground water resource levels, stream and river flows are likely to remain low until winter rains bring the much needed recovery. Some areas of the country remain at risk if there is a hot dry summer.
Seven water companies continue to maintain their temporary use bans to preserve supplies. Anglian Water, South East Water, Southern Water, Sutton and East Surrey Water, Thames Water, Veolia South East and Veolia Central have all been monitoring the situation in close co-operation with consumers’ and the Environment Agency. All affected companies have committed to keep the restrictions in place no longer than is absolutely necessary, as they balance the need to conserve supplies with the impact on their communities.
As part of their decision making process, companies operate statutory Drought Plans which take account of expected rainfall, the water available for supply, the patterns of water use by different customers, projected rainfall forecasts and the potential for sharing water across different parts of their regional network.
Companies also work with consumers throughout the year by raising awareness of how water can be saved, providing tangible help by distributing millions of water efficiency gadgets and leaflets, and raising understanding about the precious nature of water – even in areas where supplies are plentiful.
The response from consumers to the temporary use bans has been outstanding. The latest EA report recognises that the public has a good understanding about the impact the long dry spell has had and why restrictions were necessary. Many people are taking steps to use less water and this, combined with the colder weather in April and May, has led to significantly lower demand than would normally be expected at this time of the year. The efforts of individuals and whole communities to work with the restrictions, and make the most efficient use of their tap water has helped to take the immediate pressure off of public water supplies and the environment.
The industry continues to play its part, reducing the levels of leakage year by year, targeting their investment of customers’ money to repair priority bursts, replacing old pipes, responding to public sightings of leaks and to helping customers with leaks that occur within their own properties.
There is no doubt that the overall water resource position in England is all the better for the recent rainfall, and it looks like there may be more rain to come in the next few days and possibly weeks. The EA report makes it clear though that the water resources situation could deteriorate again next year if there is another dry winter, and that the benefits have not been the same across all regions. Water companies must continue to make decisions for the longer term protection of the water supply and be confident that they can meet the demands of the coming summer and autumn.