England and Wales have seen the driest start to a year since 1976, when water rationing was introduced.
It has raised concerns that the UK could be headed for a drought.
Why has 2022 seen drought warnings?
The National Drought Group took England into “Long Dry Weather” status, the stage before a drought, at an emergency meeting.
In the first three months of the year, precipitation in England decreased by 26% and in Wales it decreased by 22%.
This meant, even before summer began, that the average river flows were “below normal” or “exceptionally low”.
In July, temperature records were broken several times and rainfall was reduced by 76%. The Weather Bureau forecasts more periods of dry and hot weather.
These conditions have been made worse by excessive water consumption. More than 28% of groundwater sources are overused, the government says.
What is a drought?
A drought is declared by the Environment Agency, which coordinates the national response with the water companies.
Many people define a drought as a long time without water.
But the Royal Meteorological Society says it’s not always as simple as that. For example, there may be agricultural droughts where there is not enough water to grow a crop.
Could there be a ban on hoses?
Individual water companies can ban hoses to reduce water demand.
These can be announced in response to low river levels.
Southern Water will introduce a hose ban on August 5 for customers in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
No hose bans have been announced by other companies for now, but customers in the South of England and the Midlands have been encouraged to use less water.
The BBC understands that some companies are considering its advice again following the National Drought Panel’s announcement.
What is the impact of drought?
The effects of drought can include:
The National Farmers Union is watching the situation closely. Berry farmers have already reported losing part of their harvest.
Vegetables such as potatoes, which will be harvested next month, are particularly at risk due to their high water content.
The effects could be felt until next year, as farmers are delaying planting crops such as rapeseed because the soil is too dry.
Recent record temperatures and very dry conditions sparked multiple fires, with significant damage to homes and grasslands.
The Environment Agency oversees the UK’s aquatic life management and will move fish to other rivers if water levels drop too low, as they did in Yorkshire in July.
Outside of the UK, places like northern Italy and Portugal declared drought emergencies in early summer and put in place water restrictions.
France, Spain and Portugal have also faced significant wildfires due to dry conditions.
What happened in the droughts of 1976 and 2018?
In 1976 and 2018, the UK experienced severe droughts that lasted for months.
They were caused by a prolonged period of dry weather during the spring and then an unusually hot summer.
In 1976, the Drought Law created emergency powers to shut off domestic and industrial water supplies.
In 2018, widespread drought led to poor harvests, driving up food prices. Multiple water restrictions were put in place.
Similar conditions have been seen this year, with little rainfall and above-average temperatures in July.
August conditions will be a major factor in determining whether the UK re-enters a drought.
Could we see more droughts in the future?
The National Infrastructure Commission, which provides advice to the government, recently said there could be more water shortages in the future due to population growth and climate change.
He called for changes in water consumption and reductions in water losses.
In the UK, up to three billion liters of water are lost each day, enough to support 20 million people.
The government’s 25-year Environmental Plan aims to address these issues by investing in existing infrastructure and improving efficiency in homes and businesses.