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Drought declared in several parts of England after driest July in over 80 years

Several regions impose hosepipe bans and other restrictions as country braces for another extreme heatwave

Members of the public stand on what was an ancient packhorse bridge exposed by low water levels at Baitings Reservoir in Yorkshire as record high temperatures are seen in the UK, Ripponden, England, Friday, Aug. 12, 2022. Low water levels at the reservoir have revealed the remains of the ancient road flooded to build the reservoir in the 1950s. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Members of the public stand on what was an ancient packhorse bridge exposed by low water levels at Baitings Reservoir in Yorkshire as record high temperatures are seen in the UK, Ripponden, England, Friday, Aug. 12, 2022. Low water levels at the reservoir have revealed the remains of the ancient road flooded to build the reservoir in the 1950s. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

LONDON (AFP) — The UK government on Friday officially declared a drought across swathes of England, following months of record low rainfall and unprecedented high temperatures in recent weeks.

At a meeting of the National Drought Group, the government’s Environment Agency said the “drought trigger threshold had been met” in parts of southwestern, southern, central and eastern England.

Drought was last officially declared in England in 2018.

The agency has released a report noting that England had its driest July since 1935.

The Met Office, the UK’s meteorological authority, said the period from January to June this year saw the least rainfall in England and Wales since 1976.

That summer saw the use of drastic measures such as roadside standpipes and water rationing.

A member of the public crosses what was an ancient packhorse bridge exposed by low water levels at Baitings Reservoir in Yorkshire as record high temperatures are seen in the UK, Ripponden, England, Friday, Aug. 12, 2022. Low water levels at the reservoir have revealed the remains of the ancient road flooded to build the reservoir in the 1950s. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

This year’s exceptional weather comes as France is also experiencing a record drought and battling huge wildfires.

The UK government said the move to drought status was based on factors such as rainfall, river flows and levels of groundwater and reservoirs and their impact on public water supply.

“We urge everyone to manage the amount of water they are using in this exceptionally dry period,” National Drought Group chair, Harvey Bradshaw, said in a statement.

The Environment Agency and water companies “will step up their actions to manage impacts” and press ahead with their published drought plans, including measures like hosepipe bans.

It stressed that “essential supplies of water are safe.”

Extreme heat

England and parts of Wales are severely parched and three water companies — Welsh Water, Southern Water and South East Water — have all imposed hosepipe bans, while several others are set to follow suit.

Every month of the year except February has been drier than average, according to the Met Office.

Satellite images from July released by NASA showed dried-up brown areas extending across most of southern England and up the northeastern coast.

The source of the River Thames has dried up, and now starts from a point several miles downstream.

Meetings of the National Drought Group are convened by the Environment Agency, which monitors water levels in rivers and groundwater.

The group is made up of senior decision-makers from the government and water companies, along with other affected groups such as farmers.

Water minister Steve Double said the government had “made it clear” to water companies that “it is their duty” to maintain essential supplies.

“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,” he added.

Firefighters battle a grass fire in the Leyton Flats, London, Friday, Aug. 12, 2022. A drought has been officially declared in some parts of southern and central England, following the driest summer of the past fifty years.(AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

Leaks

But critics have pointed to the billions of liters lost daily by the private water firms, whose top management are paid millions of pounds annually and which regularly pay out dividends to shareholders.

“They should actually get their fingers into action,” said Claire Connarty, 61, as she visited a plant nursery in Kent, southeast of London — where a hosepipe ban came into force Friday.

“They’ve got leaks all over the place but then they tell us to limit our water (use).”

Fellow shopper Barry Martin, 62, was more sympathetic, noting that leaks were inevitable and that he was trying to limit his own waste — including by having buckets in his shower to catch excess water.

“I try not to waste,” the retiree told AFP, adding that as he is on a water meter it helps keep his bills down as well as to preserve an increasingly precious resource.

The Met Office on Tuesday issued an amber warning of “extreme heat” in parts of England and Wales from Thursday to Sunday, predicting possible impacts on health, transport and infrastructure.

Temperatures were expected to peak in the mid-30s Celsius on Friday and the weekend, after which some showers and thunderstorms were forecast.

Dry and sun burnt grass spreads in Greenwich Park with the backdrop of Queens House and the high risers of Canary Wharf in London, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. Britain is braced for another heatwave that will last longer than July’s record-breaking hot spell, with highs of up to 35 C expected next week. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

Temperatures were not expected to hit the record levels seen in July, when a temperature of 40.3 degrees Celsius (104.5 degrees Fahrenheit) was recorded in Lincolnshire in northeastern England on July 20, during an unprecedented heatwave.

The National Climate Information Centre said that such high temperatures in the UK were only possible due to human-induced climate change.

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