Drought warning for Essex

PARTS of Essex will officially be in a “state of drought” if the region does not get well above average rainfall for the rest of the winter, the Environment Agency has warned.

And according to weather forecasters, there is no significant rain on the horizon.

Spokeswoman for the agency, Catherine Burbage, said as the east of England was in the middle of its driest winter since 1921, there were grave concerns for the situation this summer.

She said: “Last year was a very dry year with exceptionally low rainfall, so we needed to make up for the deficit through winter.

“To get back up to normal, we need 120 per cent of the long-term average rainfall over the entire winter period. We are waiting to see how much rain we get during January, February and March, but if it does not hit that percentage, we will definitely be looking at a water shortage. Although rainfall varies locally, we are very concerned about the prospect for summer.”

Last June, Defra and the Environment Agency officially announced parts of the Anglian region were in a state of drought following the driest spring on record in south east and central southern England. Nationally, it was the driest summer since 1990.

Currently, Essex is listed as facing a “potential” drought situation, which will change to full drought status if the rainfall does not hit the target figure. Among those most at risk are the agricultural community and other businesses that rely on extracting large volumes of water from the region’s rivers and aquifers.

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According to Ms Burbage, a water shortage would also cause environmental problems such as a higher level of pollution incidents and low oxygen levels in rivers, which would impact on wildlife.

She said lack of rainfall was only one part of the problem, adding: “At the moment, we have a high soil moisture deficit – which means the soil is unusually dry – coupled with the fact that ground water levels are unusually low and water levels in rivers are also low.

“Last year, some farmers were restricted as to how much water they could take out of rivers and reservoirs for their crops, and in some areas, restrictions have also been placed on the amount they can take out of the system for their own water storage reservoirs during this winter.

“The agency has drought management plans already in place and we have done a lot of work with the water companies and the farming community to see how the reserves can best be managed to maximise what we have now, and to ensure that everyone gets a reasonable amount.”

In a drought situation, it is up to individual water companies to decide how to use their allocation. A hosepipe ban is one water-saving option the Environment Agency can recommend if the situation does not improve dramatically over the next three months.

But at this stage, forecaster for Weatherquest, Chris Bell, does not think heavy rain is likely. He said although trends could not be accurately predicted beyond a month, the next four weeks were not expected to bring above average rainfall.

He added: “In the next couple of weeks, we might get a few showers, but certainly not a good soaking. I predict that we will get near average for the next four weeks but we will not get anywhere near 120%. We would need to be on a pattern of regular fronts coming off the Atlantic to see anything like that.

“I can say that we are unlikely to hit that target in the next few weeks because the charts do not show anything particularly wet or above average.”