England could be facing drought in August if the hot and dry weather continues, with officials set to meet to discuss how to cope with the conditions.
On Tuesday (26 July), officials from the Environment Department (Defra) and agencies including the Environment Agency are meeting with water companies and other groups, including the National Farmers’ Union and the Country Land and Business Association, to discuss how to protect water supplies.
The country is not in widespread drought but most of England - except for the North West - has moved into a state of “prolonged dry weather”.
This is the step before drought is declared and raises the issue of restrictions, such as hosepipe bans.
Which areas are experiencing drought conditions?
Much of the England already has low river flows, affecting the quality and quantity of water. It also impacts on farmers and other water users, as well as wildlife.
Low groundwater levels, dry soils and low reservoirs have been seen following months of below average rainfall, with last week’s record-breaking heatwave putting extra pressure on water resources.
In Yorkshire, the Environment Agency has applied for a drought order for the Holme Styes reservoir in Holmfirth after months of low rainfall in order to protect wildlife.
Southern Water has also applied for a drought permit for the River Test in Southampton, Hampshire, amid falling water levels. This permit could see it bring in hosepipe bans – now known as “temporary use bans”.
The last time drought was declared was back in 2018, but with continued dry weather in recent months it is possible another could be declared.
A dry spring and early summer have already withered rivers and reservoirs, and watered down water quality in many parts of England.
It has pushed most of the country into "prolonged dry weather" status - the first of four drought categories.
The second "drought" stage hinges on when the rain returns, and whether it adds up to more or less than usual.
If it rains the chances could be washed away and forecasts of rain in mid-August are increasing, despite plenty of dry weather expected within the next few weeks.
If areas did move into the second "drought" stage, water companies could limit non-essential domestic and commercial water use, or apply for special permits to extract extra water from the environment.
Will hosepipes be banned?
There are currently no restrictions in place to tackle drought, such as hosepipe bans.
However, water companies are already urging people to save water in the face of the hot and dry weather, and it is possible that there will be localised bans if the dry weather continues.
For farmers, August and September will be critical, and there is an increasing risk of restriction in irrigation in localised areas.
What is the forecast for this week?
Forecasts are relatively uncertain after the settled weather this week, but Met Office forecaster Craig Snell said drier weather is likely in the South and wetter conditions in the North.
He said: “The trend is the South will see the balance of the drier weather and the North will see the balance of the wetter weather, which is kind of what you would expect at this time of year.
“Even as you go to the middle part of August, on balance more persistent spells of rain will be across the North West, with the South seeing any rainfall in the form of showers or thunderstorms.”