Environment Agency issues drought permits for the North West to protect public water supplies and the environment

16th August 2018

Environment Agency issues drought permits for the North West to protect public water supplies and the environment

The Environment Agency announced today (16 August) that it has issued United Utilities with drought permits which allow the water company to take additional water from Windermere and Scales boreholes in Cumbria, and Delph and Rivington reservoirs in Lancashire.  The drought permits have been issued should they be needed later in the year and will apply for a limited time period to secure water supplies for people across North West England.

As set out in their drought plan, United Utilities are required to introduce a Temporary Use Ban (also known as a hosepipe ban), if the drought permits are used before the end of September. Temporary use bans are a requirement of their Drought Plan to help reduce demand for water, unless in specific local circumstances or at times of year where it is deemed that a temporary use ban wouldn’t benefit water resources in that area.

It is good news that water levels in the North West have slightly improved thanks to recent rainfall and efforts to conserve water. But despite this temporary respite, the region has only received around half of the rainfall normally expected during May to July. The North West has received 132mm of rain which is 56% of the long term average.

Current forecasts also suggest there may be continued lower than average rainfall into autumn.  The Environment Agency have assessed and determined United Utilities  drought permit applications, so that these are ready to be implemented should they still be needed, to ensure water supplies continue to be  maintained and the environment is protected.

Jim Ratcliffe, Environment Agency Drought Manager, said:

“The Environment Agency uses regulatory powers to manage water availability to maintain essential supplies for people and the environment and will always balance the needs of the public, industry, farmers and the environment.

“As the dry weather is set to continue in to autumn, there could still be restrictions later in the summer so we continue to urge everyone to use water wisely. Our staff will continue to manage demand by working with farmers, businesses and others who abstract water.

“We continue to work with water companies across the country to ensure they are following robust drought plans.”

The drought permit for Windermere enables United Utilities to take additional water from the lake but only at times when flows are high enough to protect both levels in the lake for tourism and recreation uses, and the wildlife in the River Leven.

This water is needed to support the recovery of storage in Haweswater – a key source of drinking water for the people of the North West. The water resources situation could also improve if demand for water reduces or if enough rain returns to replenish supplies.

Nigel Wilkinson, Managing Director, Windermere Lake Cruises Limited:

“The permit for Windermere allows United Utilities to abstract additional water from the lake, however, we don’t expect this to make any visible difference to the level of Windermere so people will just see business as usual.”

The drought permits for Delph reservoir, in Egerton, Bolton, and Rivington reservoir, Lancashire, will allow United Utilities to reduce the ‘compensation flow’ they have a legal requirement to release downstream. This will allow more water will be kept in the reservoirs for public water supplies. This means river flows downstream may be reduced, which reflects that of other natural streams in the area during a period of dry weather. Great care is taken to ensure any reduction in river flows will not cause harm to the downstream environment.

The drought permit for Scales boreholes will allow United Utilities to take more water over the year, so they can abstract at their daily rate for longer. This relieves pressure on the surface water sources in the north Cumbria; Wigton area.

Any drought permit is only issued after public consultation and a review of all the available environmental data. This is a rigorous process. The Environment Agency also require the water company to monitor the impact on wildlife and if needed, take action to mitigate any potential damage to the environment.

Each week, Environment Agency hydrology experts monitor river flows and groundwater to see how much water there is and plan accordingly. Just like in a flood scenario, they put well tested plans in place during this period of dry weather. This ensures that the supply for water is managed in the best possible way.

Across the North West, as well as up and down the country, Environment Agency teams have been responding to dry weather incidents. In the last three months alone, there have beenmore than 2,000 incidents reported to the incident hotline in the North West, ranging from fish caught in pools due to low flows, fish kills due to low oxygen levels, reports of Blue-Green algae, or moorland fires.

Environment Agency teams are continuing to meet with affected groups including farmers to provide practical advice about conserving water and planning for prolonged dry weather. Teams have carried out abstraction licence checks, carried out water abstraction visits, advised businesses and farmers on water usage, and inspected rivers where the flows are lowest.

The Environment Agency continues to work with United Utilities to make the best use of the water available and minimise any potential impacts to people, the environment and tourism.