A drought has been declared for the whole region of South West England, the Environment Agency has announced.
Earlier this month Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly were placed in a state of drought.
The domains that have been added are:
• South Gloucestershire
• Parts of Wiltshire
This means that 11 of the 14 areas covered by the Environment Agency in England have been declared to be experiencing drought.
It comes after the country was scorched by a period of high temperatures and the driest conditions in nearly 90 years.
Although the regions have seen some rainfall over the past fortnight, it has not been “enough to compensate for the long dry spell of recent months”, the agency said.
The announcement means residents may see restrictions placed on domestic and commercial water use.
Although these actions are not automatically implemented, the transition to drought status means that the Environment Agency and water companies can implement stages of previously agreed plans.
These plans take into account local factors, including rainfall, the amount of water remaining in rivers, reservoirs and lakes, as well as temperature forecasts and water demand.
Read more: What happens during a drought and how can you help?
Many rivers showing ‘lowest flows ever’
The latest areas to transition to drought status experienced low river flows as a result.
“Despite heavy rains over the past two weeks, it hasn’t been enough to fill our rivers and aquifers,” said Chris Paul, the agency’s drought zone manager.
“River levels in our region of Wessex are exceptionally low – many are showing the lowest flows on record.
“This is putting incredible pressure on local wildlife and that is why we are moving to drought status. We are prioritizing our local operations to minimize environmental impacts.”
Critical water supplies for the areas are secure, but water companies have been urged to continue their precautionary planning to protect them in case the fall is particularly dry.
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The Environment Agency’s national water situation report shows that last month was the driest July in England since 1935.
For five consecutive months, the country has experienced below-average rainfall and above-average temperatures, resulting in lower river flows, groundwater levels and reservoir stocks, the agency added.
Experts have said sufficient rainfall over the fall and winter would allow stocks to rebuild to normal levels in the spring, but planning should start now on how to handle shortfalls in 2023 if the months to come are dry.
Extremely hot and dry conditions have also affected crops, fueling forest fires and leading to a sharp increase in water demand.
Six water companies – Southern Water, South East Water, Thames Water, Yorkshire Water, South West Water and Welsh Water – have already implemented or announced garden hose bansas part of drought relief efforts.
However, water companies have been criticized for high rates of water leakage from the network, profits and the dumping of sewage into rivers and the sea during recent heavy rains.
Drought is also hitting much of Europe, with conditions worsening in Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania and Spain.
All of South West England is now in drought