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Cambridgeshire is heading for a drought, warns Environment Agency

We are heading towards a drought in Cambridgeshire, the Environment Agency has confirmed.

The Cam and Ely Ouse river catchment is the first in East Anglia to move into the official status of ‘developing drought’, which describes a period of ‘prolonged dry weather’.

The River Cam, Cambridge.
The River Cam, Cambridge.

It comes after one of the driest springs on record, which has left river flows and some groundwater levels below normal in locations along the River Cam and Ely Ouse.

The period of March to May in East Anglia was the fourth driest period since records began in 1892.

Met Office figures show only 51mm of rainfall fell in the East of England over those three months - just 36 per cent of the long-term average. May was particularly dry - just 5mm of rain fell, only 10 per cent of the average.

Conditions mean the soil it is soaking up water more quickly than usual, the Environment Agency said.

A short shower typically uses less water than a bath - but be aware that power showers may use more. Try an aerated showehead or low flow shower
A short shower typically uses less water than a bath - but be aware that power showers may use more. Try an aerated showehead or low flow shower

Now with a heatwave upon us, and temperatures soaring past 30C in parts, the Environment Agency urged householders and businesses to do what they can to limit water use.

East Anglia moved to ‘drought’ status in May 2019, following three years of exceptionally dry weather across the south east.

It was declared an ‘environmental drought’.

Winter rainfall replenished groundwater levels, but now the dry spring has seen levels fall.

A rainfall summary from the Environment Agency
A rainfall summary from the Environment Agency

It means those allowed to abstract water in the worst affected areas can expect a notice to restrict the amount of water they take, or the times they do it, as described in their licence conditions.

Helen Smith, a drought manager for Environment Agency in East Anglia, said: "We continue to monitor our key river, groundwater and reservoir sites using telemetry, in line with government guidance, and are liaising with water companies to understand any emerging concerns.

“We are also working with farmers, businesses and other abstractors to manage water availability and ensure that as far as possible they get the water they need to be resilient while maintaining our protection of the environment.

“We are closely monitoring the developing incident and produce regular reports on the water situation, available on www.gov.uk.

“We can all do our part to use water wisely and manage this precious resource. If you are using water in the garden, take some simple steps such as fitting a trigger to your hose or using a bucket to wash the car or water plants.

“While we ask people to use water wisely, they should follow current NHS advice on stopping the spread of coronavirus by washing hands with soap and water often.”

The Cambridge Independent has been highlighting the challenges facing the region, which is one of the driest in the country.

Volunteers at the Cam Valley Forum have called for a new reservoir to be created to limit the city’s reliance on groundwater abstraction.

Daniel Zeichner, Cambridge’s Labour MP, warned this was a clear example of the impact of climate change.

He said: "Our part of the world is one of the driest in Britain, but this year has seen some particularly extreme weather. It is clear there is a climate emergency and we need national and international action to tackle this. But locally we can do our bit too with careful and efficient use of water.

A river flow summary from the Environment Agency
A river flow summary from the Environment Agency

“I welcome the move by the Environment Agency as last summer, one of the three tributary chalk streams to the River Cam dried up completely and I do not want to see that happen again.

“Our precious and unique freshwater ecosystems are currently at severe risk, and we risk losing important biodiversity."

If people see any environmental impacts due to dry weather, such as fish in distress, they can report it to the Environment Agency 24/7 on 0800 80 70 60.

For water-saving tips, visit Waterwise.

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