A drought has been declared across much of England after the driest summer in half a century.
Rain levels in recent weeks have been at record lows which, coupled with scorching heat, have depleted water levels in the country’s reservoirs and lakes.
Millions already live under water restrictions and more could soon follow.
Here you will find everything you need to know about the drought and what it means for you.
When is a drought officially declared?
We have all heard of the word drought, but in this context it also has an official meaning.
The authorities can declare a drought when the lack of rain leads them to worry about the environment, the water supply and the agricultural industry.
While there is no specific definition, officials are looking at criteria such as stress on natural water sources, collateral effects on agriculture, wildlife and natural habitats, as well as falling levels of stored water so that the people drink it and use it in their daily lives.
On August 12, the Environment Agency officially confirmed drought status in eight of the fourteen areas it monitors: Devon and Cornwall, Solent and South Downs, Kent and South London, Herts and North London, East Anglia, Thames, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire and the East Midlands. .
Yorkshire was quickly added to the list just four days later.
While it is not unusual to experience a drought in this country, this is the first in a decade. Between 1975 and 2012, five official droughts were declared.
Who decides if there is a drought?
A body known as the National Drought Group is called in to take action when rainfall levels drop.
It is made up of representatives from leading environmental bodies such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Environment Agency (EA), Natural England, the Farmers’ Union, the water companies and other relevant organisations.
It met earlier this summer to officially confirm that the country had moved to yellow alert level (“prolonged dry weather”) and met again recently to move the country to amber (“drought”) status.
What does a drought mean for everyday life?
Although it may seem obvious, the impact of drought on our daily lives will depend on its severity and duration.
Experts say some restrictions may be necessary over the next year as water levels return to normal.
The various water companies that manage the network in different parts of the country must maintain plans of what they will do in an emergency.
The most obvious measures are hose bans, which have already been imposed in some places.
Further restrictions on commercial and domestic use would then apply, and companies can apply for permits to physically move water across the country to the most affected areas when necessary.
Other plans may involve an increase in water extraction, although this may have environmental impacts.
For example, Thames Water states in its draft 2022 drought plan: “A key feature of our Drought Plan is the ability to use Drought Permits in a severe drought.”
‘Drought Permits are a means by which we can obtain temporary permission from the Environment Agency to increase extraction at specific sites in a severe drought.’
While the plan warns this could impact sensitive flows, it would only be used “in extreme circumstances”.
Household water rationing is still a long way off and the Environment Agency has stressed that drinking water levels are still at safe levels.
If things get too bad, the National Drought Group can take the country to a red alert level, defined as the ‘severe drought stage’.
Before things returned to normal from here, the country would return to an amber-colored ‘recovering stage of drought’, where the water companies could still impose some measures.
MORE: Drought declared in parts of Wales after months of dry weather.
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MORE: Was there a drought in 1976 after the great heat wave?
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