2 May 1997

NW faces up to drought risk

DESPITE heavy rain this week, north west farmers are being warned that they could still face serious water shortages in the coming months.

Latest regional figures show low rainfall for 20 of the past 24 months, with April having only 35% of the months usual figure. And even with this weeks heavy rain, farmers are being urged not to become complacent.

Lancs farmers who abstract water under licence for irrigation, will be targeted by the Environment Agency this month in an effort to persuade them to conserve water. And the agency has also announced two water conservation seminars, in Lancs and Cheshire.

While the region is not usually considered to be at risk of water shortages, the EA says the latest rainfall data demand a responsible approach to irrigation.

"As well as encouraging farmers to consider storage schemes and to improve irrigation practices, some may consider altering their cropping to avoid being caught out by an irrigation ban," says Paul Birchall, area water resources manager.

Although the national situation is far more serious – only 4% of the anticipated UK rainfall fell during the first half of April – farmers in the north west can no longer ignore the need to conserve water.

More farmers are applying for storage schemes to abstract during the winter. If a ban is imposed, those with stored water will not be affected. Annual licence charges for stored water are only £1.30/m litres compared with £12.13 for the same amount used by direct abstraction from a watercourse. Average water use among Lancs arable farmers is between 10m and 22m litres. &#42