England is heading for a drought, Environment Agency warns

Continuing dry weather is likely to push England into a drought, the government warned on Friday, as the national weather service said hot conditions were expected next week.

Last month marked the driest July in England since 1935, while an unprecedented heatwave sent temperatures in the UK above 40C for the first time on record. Such extreme weather has already forced three UK water companies to announce hosepipe bans that will affect around 2.4mn people in England and Wales.

On Friday, the Environment Agency warned that if the dry conditions continued “many parts of England will move into drought.”

The Met Office, meanwhile, forecast that next week was likely to be hot, with no significant rain expected in the south of England until at least next weekend.

“There is very little meaningful rain in the forecast,” said Met Office chief forecaster Steve Willington. “We could see parts of the UK entering heatwave conditions.”

Climate change has made extreme weather events around the world, from heatwaves to floods and fires, more frequent and intense. The world has already warmed by around 1.1C since pre-industrial times, and is expected to keep warming for a while even if emissions are rapidly curbed.

“The scale of heatwaves and droughts we’re currently experiencing has been projected by climate research for many years now,” said Mike Rivington, senior scientist at the James Hutton Institute. “What we are seeing is a clear signal of what the future is going to be like.”

Thames Water, a major supplier for regions including London, said this week that it was urging people to conserve water, but that the “next stage” of its response to the dry conditions would be to introduce a temporary use ban. Demand had recently been the highest for over 25 years while supplies had been lower than usual, the company said.

Thames Water’s drought plan includes the use of its desalination facility — which removes salt from water — in east London during periods of water stress. But the plant, which was completed in 2010, is currently out of service. Thames Water said it was working “as fast as possible to get it ready for use early next year, to achieve protection to our supplies if we were to have another dry winter.”

Hosepipe bans have been announced by Southern Water, South East Water and Welsh Water, covering around 2.4mn customers across Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Kent, Sussex and Pembrokeshire. Other water companies have been urging customers to be sparing with the resource for several weeks in the hope of avoiding introducing such a measure.

Although comparisons have been drawn between this year and 1976, a year of serious drought in the UK, the Environment Agency and Met Office have said the situation is not as severe. The dryness this summer was preceded by wetter months than were observed in the run-up to the 1976 drought.

According to the Environment Agency, most of England is in “prolonged dry weather” status, but the country has not yet officially entered a drought. The National Drought Group — which brings together the Environment Agency, government, water companies, the National Farmers’ Union and industry and environmental groups — is expected to meet again this month following their July meeting.

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