UK water firm asks for more water from Lake District to fight drought

United Utilities submits drought applications for Ullswater, Windermere and Ennerdale Water

A water company has asked for permission to take more water from some of the Lake District’s most famous lakes, as the UK experiences its driest summer for decades.

United Utilities, which supplies water to north-west England, has submitted three drought applications to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to extract water from Ullswater, Windermere and Ennerdale Water.

Drought applications can be made when there is an exceptional shortage of rainfall and public water supplies are at risk. Limits are applied to how much water can be taken from lakes to protect the environment, ecology and wildlife.

The drought application came as forecasters said swathes of England were set to be hit by thunderstorms and heavy rain. Flash flooding could lead to power cuts, hazardous driving conditions and transport delays across parts of the England on Friday afternoon, the Met Office said.

Yellow weather warnings were in place across the east Midlands and east of England, London and the south-east, and the south-west from 2pm until the end of the day.

This week, United Utilities announced it would be introducing the first hosepipe ban in England since 2012, after the UK’s longest heatwave in more than 40 years.

Seven million people in the north-west will be affected by the ban, which is due to come into force on 5 August. A hosepipe ban was introduced in Northern Ireland on 29 June and lifted from midday on Thursday.

Martin Padley, United Utilities’ water services director, said: “The reducing raw water reservoir levels are not surprising given the ongoing lack of rainfall.

“Applying for drought permits is not a decision we have taken lightly, and we are working closely with the Environment Agency to ensure that water supplies are protected for both customers and the environment.”

Jim Ratcliffe, the drought manager at the Environment Agency, said: “We are currently checking whether we have all the information we need to begin to determine these applications. Any drought permit would only be issued to United Utilities after public consultation and a review of all the available hydrological data. The water resources situation could also improve if demand for water reduces or if enough rain returns to replenish supplies.

“The Environment Agency will always balance the needs of the public, businesses, industry, farmers and the environment.”

After a slight dip in temperatures and rain in some places, the UK is expected to have another heatwave next week, with temperatures reaching the low 30s.

The UK has had its driest start to a summer since 1961, with an average daily maximum temperature from 1 June to 16 July of 20.9C. The highest daily maximum average for an entire summer (June, July and August) was 21C in 1976.

Six areas of England have had exceptionally low daily river flows over the past week and a further six have had notably low levels, according to data from the Environment Agency. Overall, at two-thirds of “indicator sites” on rivers levels are below normal for the time of year, and none is above normal.

Elsewhere, the Environment Agency has taken to aeration to sustain oxygen levels for fish in some rivers during the hot spell. The UK as a whole received only 19.5% of expected summer rainfall between 1 June and 16 July, according to Met Office figures.

As of Wednesday, the UK having just 1.85in (47mm) of rain so far means it is the driest start to summer in modern records, which date back to 1961, followed by 2013 with 2.3in (59mm) of rain.

• The subheading was amended on 23 July 2018 to remove “Lake” from the names of Ullswater and Windermere.


Frances Perraudin and agency

The GuardianTramp

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