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Why are rivers in Suffolk and Essex drying up despite August showers?

PUBLISHED: 06:00 26 August 2019

The Environment Agency is worried about water levels in some rivers in the region. The River Stour at Clare Castle Country Park. PICTURE: RACHEL EDGE

The Environment Agency is worried about water levels in some rivers in the region. The River Stour at Clare Castle Country Park. PICTURE: RACHEL EDGE

RACHEL EDGE

Fears are growing over water levels in rivers in Suffolk and Essex which is being exacerbated by a long-term dry spell unlikely to come to an end in the near future.

Officers helped scoop the fish out of a horseshoe weir in Nayland Picture: ENVIRONMENT AGENCYOfficers helped scoop the fish out of a horseshoe weir in Nayland Picture: ENVIRONMENT AGENCY

As the region basked in what may prove to record-breaking temperatures for the August bank holiday, the Environment Agency is warning that half its measuring points on rivers in Suffolk and Essex had "notably low" recordings in July - and that is set to be repeated in August despite some heavy rain earlier this month.

Officials at the government agency are hoping for a wet autumn, winter and spring to replenish rivers and underground water courses (aquifers).

Although there is no immediate threat of domestic water shortages, some farmers have been facing tighter restrictions on how much water they are allowed to extract from rivers.

This has led to problems in various places in the river systems. Thousands of fish had to be rescued from the River Stour at Nayland and transferred to other places with more water.

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A spokeswoman for the Environment Agency said: "Because the ground water is incredibly dry, when it does rain this is going into the soil instead of the rivers. What we need is prolonged rainfall over the autumn, winter and spring to help recharge the aquifer."

Chris Bell, from Norwich-based Weatherquest, said there had been below-average rainfallcumulatively over the last three years.

Statistics showed that over that period there had been 13 months of above average rainfall, 21 of below average rainfall, and two months where it had been almost on average. But many of the above average months had been in late spring, summer and early autumn months when much of the rainfall evaporates or runs off - winter months have been particularly dry.

Mr Bell said: "Over that period we have seen about 75% of long-term average rainfall. It isn't a disaster but it has led to falling water levels."

He was unable to hold out an immediate prospect of relief: "In the immediate future it doesn't look as if the trend of below-average rainfall is going to change much."

Over the last three years the region has had 240mm less rain than the long term average. Over the last year it has had 72mm less than expected - 11% less than average over the last 40 years.

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