BUSINESSES HAVE been urged to use water wisely with the Environment Agency warning that the current drought conditions could last beyond Christmas.
Seventeen counties in South West England and the Midlands have moved into official drought status, after two dry winters have left rivers and ground waters depleted.
While public water supplies in these areas are unlikely to be affected, the lack of rain is taking its toll on the environment and farmers.
Rain over the spring and summer will help to water crops, but it is unlikely to improve the underlying drought situation, said the Agency. There had been hopes that a prolonged period of rainfall between October and March known as the winter recharge period would prevent widespread drought, but parts of England received less than 60% of the average winter rainfall, and water supplies have not been replenished.
Experts are now hoping for a steady rainy winter in 2012/13 to restore rivers and groundwaters, but the Environment Agency is working with the water industry to put plans in place now to deal with the prospect of a third dry winter.
The Agency is urging all water users to save water now, to help prevent more serious shortages and environmental impacts next year.
Head of water resources Trevor Bishop said:
A longer term drought, lasting until Christmas and perhaps beyond, now looks more likely. We are working with businesses, farmers and water companies to plan ahead to meet the challenges of a continued drought. While weve had some welcome rain recently, the problem has not gone away, and we would urge everyone to use water wisely now.
The Environment Agency last week called on businesses to join householders in saving water. It is also continuing to press water companies to demonstrate that they have stepped up their publicity campaigns and taken measures to increase leakage detection.