Drought declared in the West Midlands - what it means for the region

Could a hosepipe ban be introduced in the region to tackle the drought?

A drought has been officially declared across the West Midlands following months of hot weather in the UK.

The prolonged dry weather in the region has resulted in low river flows and reservoir levels falling across the River Severn catchment area. The announcement, following the latest meeting of the National Drought Group, means 10 out of the Environment Agency’s 14 English regions are now in drought.

The National Drought Group Meeting brought together Environment Department (Defra) and Environment Agency officials, water companies, and groups including the National Farmers’ Union, to discuss the situation. Following the meeting, officials said there was no threat to essential supplies, and that water companies had confirmed they have enough water for essential business and household needs.

Here’s what you need to know about how the drought could impact the region.

A woman waters her garden

What is a drought?

According to the Met Office, in the simplest terms, drought is defined by a lack of water. Unlike most other extreme weather, drought tends to build up over time and can last from as little as a few weeks up to several years.

The severity of drought is usually measured both by its impact on human activities, such as agriculture and leisure, and by its effect on large-scale natural events such as wildfires. There are different types of drought, including ecological drought – when lack of water affects the local environment as well, and hydrological drought – when water supplies such as streams and reservoirs are low, which can be caused by low rainfall, lack of snow melt, or other reasons.

What will it mean for the region and will households be affected?

Environment Agency officials said the drought is not a threat to essential water supplies in the region.

Recent rainfall in some parts of the country has not been enough to replenish rivers, groundwater or reservoirs to normal levels, but the Environment Agency agreed that sufficient rainfall over the autumn and winter would replenish rivers, lakes, groundwater and reservoirs to normal levels by spring.

That will require a returned to sustained average or above average rainfall in the coming months – and until and unless that happens, officials said the drought is not a threat to supplies.

It has been the driest summer for 50 years, and the hot dry weather has also led to a large increase in demand for water, with impacts on the environment including rivers and ponds drying out and fish and other wildlife dying or suffering.

A drought does not necessarily trigger action, but the Environment Agency can ask water companies and the government to do things to protect essential water supplies, such as temporary use bans, more commonly known as hosepipe bans. Six water companies – Southern Water, South East Water, Thames Water, Yorkshire Water, South West Water and Welsh Water – have so far implemented or announced hosepipe bans, as part of efforts to tackle the drought in the UK’s other regions.

‘There are many useful things we can do to be less wasteful with our water and we should do that all year round, not just during the floody-drought season’, writes Steve N Allen.

Will Severn Trent implement a hosepipe ban to tackle the issue?

Earlier this month (August), Severn Trent, which supplies the water to households across the region, confirmed that they aren’t introducing temporary measures. With water supplies in the West Midlands not being affected by the drought, the company hasn’t announced any plans to introduce a hosepipe ban. It has been 27 years since Severn Trent introduced a hosepipe ban.

‘This summer should be a wake-up call’

The Environment Agency said planning should begin now on how to manage shortfalls in 2023 if the coming months are dry.EA chief executive Sir James Bevan warned: “Water pressures on wildlife and the environment remain high and despite recent rainfall and the pause in the hot dry weather, we must continue to manage water wisely.”

He added: “Both for the coming year and, with the impact of climate change, for the coming decade, a complete gear change is needed for how water companies and all water users, from farmers to households, think about how they use water and understand its fundamental value.

“This summer should be a wake-up call for how the nation prepares for weather extremes and how we make the very best use of our water resources.”

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