Explainer

Why the South West is still in drought - even though it's raining

The summer's heat waves have long passed and the weather may feel appropriately autumnal but the South West is still experiencing a drought.

The Environment Agency says rainfall levels have not been high enough to replenish reservoirs in the region.

Despite more rainy conditions in September, there has been a stark warning that issues around water supply remain.

The situation has prompted concerns that without average rainfall over autumn and winter, the drought will last into 2023.

What do the rainfall levels mean for the South West?

Over the past few months, there has been extremely low rainfall, although there are signs the amount of rain is returning to average monthly levels.

July was the driest across England since 1935 with rainfall totals for most of the country classed as 'exceptionally low' for the time of year.

According to the Environment Agency, August was the sixth consecutive month with below-average rainfall across England.

However, the Met Office has recorded September's rainfall levels to be more in keeping with the average.

The latest figures from the Met Office show rainfall so far this month reached 91.1mm. That means levels are on track (99%) for an average September.

But to fully replenish low reservoir levels, this trend needs to continue throughout the autumn and into the winter, according to the Environment Agency.

As of September 20, total reservoir stocks in England were at still at 52% of total capacity.

What is being done about to manage the drought in the South West?

Water companies have already been implementing measures to manage the drought including hosepipe bans.

Companies across England, including South West Water and Thames Water, are now also submitting 'drought permits'.

If approved, it will allow the companies more flexibility to manage water resources and the effects of drought on public water supply as well as the environment. 

South West Water has applied to be able to extract water from Upper Tamar Lake because of 'exceptionally below average rainfall between April and August 2022'.

A spokesperson for South West Water said: "The dry and hot weather events we are experiencing, including the current drought, means that we must place even greater importance on our precious water supplies which support the lives of people and places they love."

The National Drought Group has agreed to take a “proactive approach to implementing drought plan interventions” and other schemes this winter.

They say they will review autumn and winter projections and continue “scenario-planning” into next year.

David Dangerfield, group chairman and the agency’s director of water, land and biodiversity, said that despite September rainfall issues around water supply remain.

He said: “When rain falls, it is easy to assume the need to act against drought and prolonged dry weather has passed, but that is not the case.

“Water pressures on agriculture, wildlife and the environment remain high as we head into the autumn and winter, which is why we must continue to manage water wisely."