Agency issues water shortage warning

RESTRICTIONS on water could be brought in over the summer months if the current dry period - which is posing a threat to rivers and crops - continues.The Environment Agency has said some rivers in Suffolk and Essex had levels at the end of April that are normally only seen in August.

RESTRICTIONS on water could be brought in over the summer months if the current dry period - which is posing a threat to rivers and crops - continues.

The Environment Agency has said some rivers in Suffolk and Essex had levels at the end of April that are normally only seen in August.

It has warned that if the summer is hot and dry some East Anglian waterways could dry up, causing fish and wildlife to suffer.

Restrictions on the amount of water farmers can extract for irrigation could be brought in before July if there is not enough rainfall, and the threat of a hosepipe ban is also looming if supplies dwindle quickly.


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The warning has prompted some farmers in the county to volunteer to take less water than they are allowed in a bid to conserve water for longer and safeguard their crops.

Paul Hammett, environment and land use advisor for the National Farmers' Union in East Anglia, said yesterday: “What the farmer needs to ensure is that there is water available to the crop for their entire growing period.

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“If the farmer starts growing the crop now and it needs to be watered until July and the Environment Agency says there is no water, then the crops will die, the farmer will have nothing to sell and the consumer will have to rely on imports.”

Fruit, vegetable and salad crops are threatened most by the lack of water.

Now, 80 farmers in the Bury St Edmunds area, known as the Lark Valley Abstractors Group, have volunteered to use only 80% of the groundwater they are licensed to extract in a bid to get through the irrigation season without severe restrictions. Similar arrangements are being discussed for other parts of the region.

Chairman of the group Lindsay Hargreaves said: “It's vital that we heed the Environment Agency warnings and all work together - the public, farmers and industry - to ensure that a serious situation doesn't turn into a crisis.”

The warning comes after below average rain fell in the east for 18 months, leaving some rivers with less than half their normal flow for this time of the year while groundwater levels are also low. Rivers that are worst affected in Essex and Suffolk include the Crouch, Box, Chelmer, Colne, Glem and Finn.

Paul Wright, the Environment Agency's central area environment manager, said if there is another hot, dry summer the hosepipe bans introduced by the Three Valleys water company could have to spread.

He said restrictions on the irrigation of crops is “certainly likely” and this could mean farmers will only be allowed to extract water at night, when it is less likely to go to waste through evaporation, or could be banned or limited to every other day.

Mr Wright said fish in rivers and other wildlife in wetlands and marshes could struggle if water flows reduce, as the oxygen in the water will drop. If rivers dry up completely then wildlife could be lost.

He added: “It is a fine line to tread but our drought plans are in place to safeguard everyone's interests.”

Essex and Suffolk Water is stepping up its water conservation campaign but it currently has no restrictions planned for water use.

Its major reservoirs at Hanningfield, near Chelmsford, and Abberton, near Colchester, are full. Around half of its Suffolk supply comes from underground sources and levels are described as “reasonable” but are being monitored carefully.

A spokeswoman for Anglian Water said: “Our situation is that our reserves are nice and full so we are not planning to introduce drought measures.”

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