Farmers in south-east England are being urged to ensure they comply with water abstraction licences amid concern that the region could experience a drought this summer.
The Environment Agency has warned that parts of the region could suffer drought conditions without substantially higher-than-average rainfall over the next three months.
Despite recent wet weather since the end of December, the south-east had a dry end to the autumn, with rainfall much lower than average.
The same region also received low rainfall last winter, leaving some groundwater supplies and reservoirs low at the end of 2017.
Environment Agency water manager Stuart Sampson said: “Above-average rainfall is now needed in parts of this region over the winter months to replenish groundwater supplies for 2018.”
The agency is actively working with water companies, business and farmers to balance the needs of water users, said Mr Sampson.
He added: “Water companies will be advising their customers to use water wisely and considering action to preserve and enhance water supplies.”
Three water companies supply south-east England – Southern Water, SES Water and Affinity Water – although only parts of the area they cover face a drought threat.
Southern Water, which supplies water across Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, applied for a precautionary drought permit on Friday (5 January).
If granted, the drought permit will help the company recharge its reservoir at Bewl Water, Kent, in preparation for next summer when demand will increase.
Bewl Water is currently only 44% full, when normally at this time of year it would be nearer 75% of capacity. In December, the reservoir was less than 33% full – an exceptionally low level.
Southern Water is applying to the Environment Agency for powers to help refill it, allowing the company to take more water from the River Medway under certain conditions.
Alison Hoyle, director of compliance and asset resilience at Southern Water said: “The dry winter last year left Bewl depleted when it would normally be full.
Lack of rain
“Summer rains helped slightly but a very dry autumn and early winter makes it important that we use every tool at our disposal to ensure that Bewl refills over the winter.
“The reservoir is a key resource. As well as supplying our customers in the Medway towns, Thanet and Hastings, it is also used by South East Water.
“It is vital that we can put more water into it and we would like to see it reach levels of 75% before the end of March.”
Parts of East Surrey and West Sussex – covered by SES Water – also require significantly above-average rainfall to avoid the possibility of drought restrictions.
Farmers who abstract water should ensure they comply with abstraction licence conditions.