The National Drought Group has forecast that average rainfall levels over winter will still not be sufficient to avoid impending drought or drought conditions next year.
The group, made up of senior decision-makers from the Environment Agency (EA), government, water companies and key farming and environmental groups including the CLA, discussed projections for a dry autumn and winter for the water, agriculture and environment sectors in 2023. Many water companies have suggested impending drought or drought conditions will remain beyond spring in some areas – notably in parts of the South West, South East, East and Yorkshire and East Midlands - if rainfall is below average.
The group also discussed the actions needed over the next six months to sustain essential water supplies in preparation for spring/summer next year, which includes water companies implementing their drought plans and accelerating infrastructure plans to improve resilience of water supplies in the medium term.
NDG members heard that:
- Water companies expect water resources to recover to either normal or recovering conditions by spring if we receive average rainfall - but a few companies forecast that some supply areas will still remain in drought or impending drought conditions in parts of south west, south east and east England.
- The lack of moisture in soils led to significant agricultural impacts and reduced water availability for farmers this year. Winter refill of farm storage reservoirs may be limited if there is below average rainfall this winter.
- Even with typical rainfall over winter, we could still see environmental impacts in 2023 due to a lag in the environmental response to the dry weather. These include impacts on fish populations, and a higher number of environmental incidents such as fish rescues being needed as a result of lower river flows.
- All sectors must plan for all scenarios, continue using water wisely and maximise access to water for all sectors and the environment.
- This is despite the EA’s latest monthly national water situation report highlighting that for the first time since February 2022, September rainfall across England as a whole reached average levels. Due to soils remaining drier than usual, this has made limited difference to river, groundwater and reservoir levels which remain low - demonstrating that recent rainfall has not changed the underlying drought situation caused by the prolonged dry weather of the last several months.
The EA is taking action to manage the impacts of the drought, including by managing water abstraction licences, taking decisions on drought permits and operating its water transfer schemes.
The EA and the CLA are also working closely with farmers and growers to support the industry. The package of measures to assist farmers announced this summer, which continues through this winter, includes water trading between farmers in catchments to help improve access to water, as well as the temporary ability to abstract additional water where it doesn’t impact existing abstractions or harm the environment.