People in England are being urged to curb their use of water as the country faces its driest conditions since 1976.
Officials are preparing to declare a drought in August if dry conditions continue, after months of very low rainfall in the UK.
Farmers are set to be told not to irrigate fields, causing fears of crop failure, and people are likely to face local hosepipe bans. Reservoirs are at record lows in some parts of the country, where rain has been below average for months.
On Tuesday the Environment Agency’s National Drought Group (NDG), made up of farming groups, environment experts and representatives from government agencies, met to discuss the response. They had been due to meet in October but the meeting was moved forward due to the drastic conditions.
Harvey Bradshaw, the Environment Agency’s executive director for the environment and chair of the NDG, said: “While last week’s extreme high temperatures are now behind us and there are currently no plans for restrictions on essential water use, we can all do our bit by reducing unnecessary water consumption and following advice from our water company to ensure this remains the case while our rivers are exceptionally low.
“Environment Agency teams are … enacting the early stages of our drought plans in many parts of England to protect people’s access to water and preserve the environment.”
People have been asked to take showers instead of baths, and not to use hosepipes to water their gardens.
Stuart Colville, the director of policy for the trade body Water UK, said: “Ongoing warm weather in much of the country follows the driest winter and spring since the 1970s. Water companies have detailed plans in place to manage water resources for customers and the environment, and are doing everything they can, including working closely with government and regulators to minimise the need for any restrictions and ensure rivers continue to flow.
“As we continue to see extremely high demand, we are urging everyone to carefully consider the amount they are using given the unprecedented conditions. The water industry is running a national water-saving campaign called Water’s Worth Saving that provides the public with helpful hints and tips on how to do their bit with water use in the home.”
However, it has been pointed out that much water waste does not come from domestic homes but leaks from old water infrastructure. Almost 3bn litres of water is leaked every day in England and Wales.
Tim Farron, the Lib Dem environment spokesperson, said: “Britain is facing the worst drought since 1976 and ministers are nowhere to be found. The government should haul water companies into Downing Street and demand they fix all leaking pipes as soon as possible. There isn’t a second to waste.”
Jim McMahon, the shadow secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, said: “The Tories have presided over a crisis in our neglected water system which struggles to keep up with demand. The now ageing system is now at bursting point. We cannot carry on as we are, with 1,245 Olympic-sized swimming pools-worth of water lost through leaks and the Tories allowing water firms to continue to pump raw sewage into rivers and coastal waters for millions of hours”
“It’s a dereliction of duty that the government is refusing to listen to Labour’s calls for higher fines for water companies, proper annual parliamentary scrutiny of Defra, Ofwat and the Environment Agency, as well as a proper strategy to clean up our waters.”
• This article was amended on 27 July 2022. In an earlier version, a picture caption incorrectly placed Woodhead reservoir in West Yorkshire, rather than Derbyshire.