Drought ‘could continue beyond Christmas’, East Anglian farmers warned

ENVIRONMENT chiefs have warned that the ongoing drought which has forced water restrictions across much of East Anglia could continue beyond Christmas.

The uncertainty over long-term weather prospects also prompted Anglian Water to underline the indefinite duration of its hosepipe ban, which will only be lifted when sufficient rain has fallen to replenish groundwater and reservoir supplies.

Yesterday, 17 counties in South West England and the Midlands were confirmed in official drought status, joining most of East Anglia and the South East, where the impacts of two dry winters had already taken their toll on rivers and aquifers.

The Environment Agency (EA) has called on businesses to join householders in saving water. The agency is also working to help farmers top up their storage reservoirs and is preparing for a potential increase in environmental incidents where wildlife could be at risk during the summer, by stepping up river monitoring and increasing supplies of water aeration and fish rescue equipment.

Experts are now hoping for a steady rainy winter in 2012/13 to restore supplies, but the agency is working with the water industry to put plans in place for the worst-case scenario of a third dry winter.

Trevor Bishop, the EA’s head of water resources, said: “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.

“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 to prevent more serious impacts next year.”

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An Anglian Water spokesman said yesterday’s EA announcements would not affect the hosepipe ban which it enforced on its customers earlier this month.

He said: “We’ve always said that what we need to reverse this drought, and to allow us to lift the ban on the use of hosepipes, is a prolonged period of above average rainfall.

“We’ve introduced a hosepipe ban now because we’re already thinking about 2013, and the prospect of a third dry winter. We’re taking prudent and precautionary steps now to ensure that, should the worst happen and we have another winter of low rainfall, we are in the best position we can be to maintain customers’ supplies.

“We have been looking ahead and planning for the long-term, investigating options to ease the effects of the drought on our customers. These include moving water around our region, getting on top of the issues of leakage, and making sure we capture every drop of rain that we can.

“This is all in addition to the measures we’re asking our customers to take with our ‘Drop 20’ campaign, calling on them to use 20 litres less each, per day, as a way of beating the drought.”