Drought puts wildlife at risk but not water supplies

The West Country is from today (Monday 16 April) officially suffering from an environmental drought according to the Environment Agency. For humans this status won’t cause our lives to drastically change but for wildlife the effects could be far reaching.

The winter hasn’t been particularly wet and as a consequence the region has had below average rainfall. Water companies that supply the South West say that reservoir storage is "satisfactory" and on average reservoirs are around 85% full.

Head of water resources, Wessex Water, Luke de Vial,:

"We are concerned about the impact dry weather is having on river flows, habitats and agriculture, so we are carefully managing abstraction to help maintain river flows and topping up streams to minimise the problems being caused by the lack of rainfall.

"We are also managing our water resources by moving water from areas that have surplus water to those in deficit."

There are many problems caused by an environmental drought according to the Environment Agency. Farmers who are licenced to take water from rivers or ground supplies may find that flows fall below acceptable levels making it illegal to remove water from the environment. That in turn will impact upon how they water their crops and use water for their animals. In the natural world fish won't swim up river to spawn if river flows are too low and wading birds will find food hard to find if wetlands dry up.

Adam Cookson, Water Resources Planner, Environment Agency

"When the flows reduce and we have higher temperatures in the Summer fish can find it particularly difficult to get the oxygen they need because the water doesn't have the oxygen they require, they can also get stranded in pools when levels drop away but also wetlands tend to dry up and that has an impact on habitats and the whole food chain."**

South West Water and Wessex Water service a great swathe of the West Country but are both maintaining that environmental drought status doesn’t impact directly on domestic and business water supplies. The firms say a water resource drought can occur when low rainfall leads to lower than usual reservoir and groundwater levels but that hasn’t happened.

Head of water resources, Wessex Water, Luke de Vial,:

"Although the region is in environmental drought, this does not suggest that we will be imposing water restrictions such as hosepipe bans. We have 18 locations where we operate 'stream support', as part of the conditions of our abstraction licences. Over the coming months we will increase how much water we pump into streams, but this will not impact on customer supplies which are currently sufficient."

This 'stream support' initiative increases the amount of water available in rivers and for wildlife. Around 20 million litres of water a day is being pumped into catchments in Dorset and Wiltshire. Despite the reassurances over human water supplies the region’s water companies recommend that customers continue to save water for the benefit of everyone and the environment.

For further information visit www.wessexwater.co.uk/saving-water**