What is a drought? Meaning explained, where in UK could be affected, will there be water restrictions?

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have declared a drought in parts of England following an emergency meeting

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has declared a drought in several parts of England.

A heatwave has hit the country for the second time this summer, as parts of England experience extremely dry weather amid temerpatures warmer than the Caribbean.

Temperatures rising above 40C in July and the mid-30Cs in August have left argicultural fields and green spaces bone-dry, with fears that it could affect crops.

The decision came following an emergency meeting between the National Drought Group - made up of civil servants, The Environmental Agency, water companies and farming unions - expected to attend an emergency meeting.

Water minister Steve Double said: “We are currently experiencing a second heatwave after what was the driest July on record for parts of the country. Action is already being taken by the Government and other partners including the Environment Agency to manage the impacts.

“All water companies have reassured us that essential supplies are still safe, and we have made it clear it is their duty to maintain those supplies.

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“We are better prepared than ever before for periods of dry weather, but we will continue to closely monitor the situation, including impacts on farmers and the environment, and take further action as needed.”

Stuart Colville, director of policy at Water UK, said that the industry was expecting the imminent announcement, telling BBC Breakfast that it would be “the right decision given some of the pressure on the environment” currently being seen throughout the country.

But what is a drought, and will there be water restrictions introduced?

Here’s everything you need to know.

The south-west of England has been experiencing extremely dry weather, with a drought expected to be declared in the region. (Credit: Getty Images)

What is a drought?

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A drought is defined as a prolonged period of shortages in water supply.

This may be due to an extended period of time without rain, or lower-than-expected surface water or groundwater.

The lack of precipitation may lead to crop damage in agriculture areas or a general water shortage in the drought-affected area.

The last time a drought was declared in the UK was in 2018.

The Environment Agency will declare the drought, and decide the severity of the effect on day-to-day life:

  • A ‘yellow’ stage means ‘prolonged dry weather’ - this means that 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’

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The Environmental Agency will take into account several different factors, including forecasted temperatures, rainfall statistics and current water levels in reservoirs and lakes before declaring a drought status.

Where in England could be affected?

DEFRA have announced that parts of the south west and east of England, as well as parts of southern and central England will be moved into drought status.

There 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

It comes after the driest July on record in some parts of the country.

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What restrictions could be introduced?

Thames Water announced that “temporary measures” would be introduced in the coming weeks, limiting water use for around 15 million households in southern England.

Southern Water has already announced a hosepipe ban for people in Hampshire and Isle of Wight, with South East Water and Welsh Water announcing similar restrictions.

However, water will still be available to use for emergency services and essential reasons, such as drinking.

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How long could restrictions continue?

The length of restrictions may depend on whether temperatures are forecasted to be high, while precipitation is expected to be low.

This means that there is no specific timeframe for which restrictions will be in place.