Lack of rainfall sparks fears of summer drought

PUBLISHED: 16:49 31 May 2019

An example of a barley field affected by drought in East Anglia Picture: ANGELA SHARPE

An example of a barley field affected by drought in East Anglia Picture: ANGELA SHARPE

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Water levels could be ‘precarious’ this summer after a lack of rainfall in recent weeks exacerbating the fact the water table is already low.

Guy Smith, deputy president of the National Farmers' Union (NFU)  Picture: NFUGuy Smith, deputy president of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) Picture: NFU

The region has only had around three-quarters of the normal rainfall for March, April and May and this has impacted on ground water levels which were already low int he wake of last summer;'s prolonged heatwave and drought.

In Essex, one of the UK's driest counties, the volume of water being diverted to Abberton and Hanningfield reservoirs from Cambridge via the Ely Ouse is around twice the level that was being transfered this time last year.

Essex and Suffolk Water, which manages the reservoirs, say both are looking healthy as a result of the increase in transfers while Alton Water, run by Anglian Water in Suffolk, is running at 93% of capacity.

A spokesman for Essex & Suffolk Water said: "For the majority of May 2019 around 153 megalitres per day have been transferred for Hanningfield and Abberton, compared with 80-85 megalitres per day for the majority of May 2018." 
Both water companies have ruled out the need for a hosepipe ban at this stage because the reservoirs are at a healthy level but have recognised the fact the water table is low.

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Deputy president of the National Farmers' Union, Guy Smith who farms near Clacton, said farmers are becoming increasingly anxious about the dry spell.

Mr Smith said: "A lot of us feel the drought we had last year - which was extreme - didn't really bite because there was water in the subsoil, but that's now gone."

He continued: "2018 came on the back of a wet period, but 2019 is on the back of a dry period, so it will exacerbate very quickly.

"We feel the situation is more precarious, to move into a dryish pattern of weather so soon rings the alarm bells."

While most farm reservoirs have filled up since last year's dry period, Mr Smith warned that some have not.

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said: "We are encouraging farmers to carry out health checks of their abstraction licences now to make sure they are as fit as possible to meet their current and future water needs.

"We will continue to work with water companies, industry professionals, farmers, and other organisations such as the NFU, to prepare for the year ahead and urge everyone to use water wisely."

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