Drought, hosepipe bans, and water shortages: Is another dry summer ahead?

Rivers are running dry in the heatwave conditions, ITV News' Amy Welch reports. Words by Kara Digby, ITV News journalist

Recent thunderstorms have brought some welcome relief to the parched countryside and towns.

But the public is being urged to remain wary and act responsibly this summer, heeding last year's water shortages.

Last year brought the driest summer in nearly 30 years, with experts warning that another hot dry spell could see those drought conditions return in 2023.

On Friday, South East Water introduced a hosepipe ban for millions across Kent and Sussex due to record demand during the week's heatwave.

So will there be more hosepipe bans to come? And what is being done to make sure the UK is ready for any extreme weather?

What happened last year?

  • Summer 2022 was England's joint warmest summer on record

  • It was the driest year since 1976

  • And also UK's warmest year so far on record (from January to August)

  • Overall, the UK recorded 62% of its average summer rainfall 

  • Some areas recorded less than 50% of their typical summer rainfall

  • It was the eighth warmest summer for both Scotland and Wales and 12th warmest for Northern Ireland

Hosepipe bans were implemented across the UK in the summer of 2022. Credit: PA

What could this summer look like?

According to Met Office data so far this month (to 14 June), the UK has recorded an average of 6.8mm of rain.

This is 9% of the average for the whole month. At this point in the month it would typically be around 47%.

The Met Office has released its three-month summary. However, it warns that this is not a forecast and, as such, should be taken with a pinch of salt.

  • Double the usual chance of a hot summer

  • Increased likelihood of heatwaves or heat-related impact

  • An increased chance of localised impacts from thundery downpours

The Met Office says the chances of a dry summer are 'close to average'.

A Met Office spokesperson said: "Although it’s not possible to forecast specific conditions for the whole of summer, our long range outlook doesn’t have a particularly strong signal in terms of likely rainfall amounts.

"The chances of a dry summer for the whole of the UK are close to average. However, there’s an increased likelihood of summer thunderstorms, particularly in southern England. Rainfall totals are likely to vary considerably in these situations."

Are water supplies being affected already?

Despite winter rainfall replenishing most water levels, a combination of low rainfall and high temperatures so far this year is already affecting the UK's water supply.

Pockets of Britain, from Inverness to Sussex, have already begun to feel the effects.

Children were sent home from school and thousands of people have been affected by water shortages in Sussex this week.

South East Water said the county had not had any significant rainfall since the end of April, putting "considerable pressure" on the company's ability to treat, pump and supply water customers.

On Friday, it announced a hosepipe ban that will come into force from June 26, warning its facilities are being stretched to their full output to accommodate soaring demand.

The Lake District's Borrowdale Valley, which regularly records more rainfall than any other place in England, has seen water levels drop drastically.

The Environment Agency says two areas remain in drought in England – parts of East Anglia, as well as Devon and Cornwall.

To help replenish water supplies in the West Country, a hosepipe ban is in place in Cornwall, which has now been extended into most of Devon.

The completely dry riverbed of the River Derwent near Rosthwaite. Credit: West Cumbria Rivers Trust

In Scotland, low river flow moved the country into alert level status, with a water report revealing 'significant scarcity' in the Loch Maree area. The northwest Highlands, extending down to Loch Ness, also continue to experience very low river levels.

In Wales, the country received 64% of the long-term average rainfall between March and September 2022, making it the driest seven-month period in 150 years, leading to the declaration of a drought.

Now this year, Natural Resources Wales, the Met Office and other partners have officially started meeting to plan ahead for extreme weather.

Professor Chris Binnie, a visiting professor from the University of Exeter said it all hinges on rainfall this summer.

Colliford Reservoir's levels reached record lows during the summer Credit: PA images

He said: "Most of the UK should be OK - for instance the reports of the reservoir supplying my area is that it was 100% full.

"But this is very variable for each water resource zone - some areas may get more restricted."

"In the medium term, critical water resources conditions in some water resource zones may get worse - which could be partially due to climate change."

What is being done about it?

In April, the government launched a 'Plan for Water' which aims to both come down hard on water companies on quality and discharges, and also invest in improving water reserves.

It includes a National Policy Statement on water resources, which means reservoirs and water transfer schemes can be built more quickly.

With England increasingly experiencing extreme weather conditions, the Environment Agency says it "cannot rely on weather alone to secure sufficient water resources."

Environment Agency Chief Executive and NDG Chair, John Curtin, said: "This spring’s wet weather continues to improve water availability. But increasingly extreme climate shocks, such as last summer’s hot and dry spell, can change everything in an instant."

"That is why government, regulators, water companies and all water users will continue to work together, using the latest science and best practice, to ensure our water resources are prepared for more extreme events in the future.

Water Minister Rebecca Pow said: "Whilst recent rain has been a relief for many, it is crucial that we all work together to ease pressures on our precious water supply and increase resilience to drought - everyone has an important role to play."

A spokesperson for Water UK said: “Population growth is increasing customer demand for water just as climate change reduces the amount available.

"In response, water companies have developed plans for £14 billion of investment in seven new reservoirs, the first of which is already under construction, as well as cross-country water transfers. This will provide an additional 2 billion litres of water per day. 

“Water companies have been working hard to tackle leakage, and each company has plans in place to reduce leakage year on year to meet the ambitious sector target of a 50% reduction by 2050."

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