Speaking earlier today (February 20), at an emergency drought summit attended by water companies, businesses, wildlife groups and non-governmental organisations (NGO), Ms Spelman said that she called the summit as “ensuring we have enough water this summer is vitally important”.

This follows an official announcement today that the South East is now officially in drought – largely the result of another year of below average rainfall and successive dry winters.

As part of the summit, key water industry players met to decide what actions need to be taken to limit the impact of drought in the future and were urged by the environment secretary to find ways of reducing water waste and water usage.

Speaking after the water summit held at Defra’s headquarters, Ms Spelman, said: “Drought is already an issue this year with the South East, Anglia and other parts of the UK now officially in drought, and more areas are likely to be affected as we continue to experience a prolonged period of very low rainfall.

“It is not just the responsibility of government, water companies and businesses to act against drought. We are asking for the help of everyone by urging them to use less water and to start now.”

During the summit an in depth analysis of the current drought situation and the ensuing effects on the environment was provided by the Environment Agency (EA), which is expected to publish its latest drought prospects report next month.

According to the EA, the report aims to help water companies, farmers and other water abstractors plan for the year ahead, and sets out clear actions that these groups should take to help manage the country’s valuable water supplies.

As a result of the summit, water companies at high risk of drought have pledged to take action to reduce water wastage and increase leakage detection, as well engage their customers to use water wisely.

Consultancy Atkins’ technical director for strategy, assessment and management Ben Piper described the drought summit as “a good step in working out the measures needed to manage the impacts of drought in parts of England this summer”.

However, he said that “in addition to immediate short-term responses to combat the threat of drought problems this summer, the water industry also needs to build on the proposals in the Water White Paper and other initiatives to reform the industry and work towards a sustainable medium and longer term response.”

He added: “The on-going and worsening drought conditions may well trigger more emphasis on the scope and speed of reforms which could include more incentives for water trading, metering, and other demand management measures.”

Meanwhile, Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) water panel chair Michael Norton said: “If we are to avoid the spectre of drought becoming an annual event we must urgently change our approach to water management, taking a more strategic overview and focusing on preventative measures for addressing scarcity before it gets to drought stage.

“Introducing demand management measures, improving interconnectivity between water companies and better and more imaginative methods of storing winter water would be a good start to safe-guarding this precious resource for the future.”

Carys Matthews

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