Will there be water rationing? Drought levels explained amid reports of supermarkets limiting bottled water

A drought has been declared in several parts of England after a spell of extremely dry weather in the region, leading to new water measures being introduced

Supermarket customers could soon experience limits on how much bottled water they can buy after a drought was declared in parts of England.

New limits on the sale of bottled water could be introduced, and has already been implemented in some areas, as the country battles extremely dry weather.

It comes as reservoirs and lakes record lower than expected water levels, with hosepipe bans also introduced for millions of UK households.

But how does water rationing work and how long could restrictions last if introduced?

Supermarket may be considering putting a limit in place for the sale of bottled water after a drought was declared in parts of England. (Credit: Getty Images

What is water rationing?

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Water rationing is the act of limiting everyday water use when the resource is in scarce supply.

This means that normal supplies of water products, or products made using water, may be limited to the public in order to ensure that essential services - such as the fire service - are able to access sufficient water.

Could water rationing be introduced in the UK?

The drought and water shortage measure could be introduced in some UK supermarkets as reservoirs and lakes begin to run dry amid mid-to-high 30C temperatures.

Thames Valley was also reported to be messaging customers to let them know that taps may run dry or may experience low pressure, leading to bottled water being handed out to affected households.

As a result of dry taps, Aldi has already reportedly introduced a limit on the sale of bottled water in London amid panic-buying, with other supermarkets also considering putting in place rationing to avoid panic-buying.

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How long could water rationing last in the UK?

The length of time that water is rationed will all depend on how long the drought status is in place.

Although a temporarly restriction, it could be in place for a prolonged period if dry weather continues and no rainwater is collected.

In this instance, reservoirs will remain at low levels, meaning that essential services may continue to be prioritised.

After rainfall is recorded in the region, it may still be a period of time before restrictions are lifted as lakes, rivers and reservoirs attempt to replenish to normal levels.

What are the current water levels in England?

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The Enironmental Agency has confirmed the total stock of England’s reservoirs at the end of July was only just 65% of its usual capacity.

This marked a record low for summer since 1995.

Data has also showed that rainfall for the country has been below the usual - just 12% long-term average in north-east England and 0% in the south-east and south-west of the country.

Additionally, The Rivers Trust has stated only 14% of rivers in England are in good ecological health, with data also showing 90% of sites were recording below-normal readings and 29% were classed as “exceptionally low”.

What are the drought levels?

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The Environmental Agency works to declare drought status on a scale of four stages.

These stages are:

  • A ‘yellow’ stage means ‘prolonged dry weather’ - this means there could be risk to wildlife and plants.
  • An ‘amber’ stage means ‘drought’ - dry weather will be putting public and private water supply under stress, with crop failures and localised wildfires expected.
  • A ‘red’ stage means ‘severe drought’ - the environmental damage is widespread with failures of public and private water supplies.
  • A final ‘amber’ stage would be declared depending on the severity of the initial warning given, with this final stage signalling ‘recovering drought’

Eight regions in England have been moved from the ‘yellow - prolonged dry weather’ stage to ‘amber - drought’.

These areas are:

  • Devon and Cornwall
  • Solent and South Downs
  • Kent and South London
  • Herts and North London
  • East Anglia
  • Thames
  • Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire
  • East Midlands