Drought: what is water rationing – will the UK ration water?

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A drought was declared in several parts of England following a period of extreme drought in the region, prompting the introduction of new water measures

After a drought was declared in parts of England, supermarket customers could soon see restrictions on the amount of bottled water they can buy.

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New restrictions on bottled water sales could be introduced and have already been implemented in some areas as the country grapples with extremely dry weather.

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But how does water rationing work and how long could restrictions last if introduced?

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The supermarket may be considering introducing a cap on bottled water sales after a drought was declared in parts of England. (Source: Getty Images

What is water rationing?

Water rationing is the act of limiting daily water use when the resource is scarce.

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This means that the normal supply of water products or products made with water can be restricted to the public to ensure essential services – like the fire service – have access to adequate water.

Could water rationing be introduced in the UK?

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The measure against drought and water shortages could be rolled out in some UK supermarkets as reservoirs and lakes begin to dry up in medium to high temperatures of 30C.

It was also reported that Thames Valley was notifying customers to let them know taps could be going dry or low pressure, resulting in bottled water being distributed to affected households.

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As a result of dry taps, Aldi has reportedly already put a limit on bottled water sales in London amid panic buying, with other supermarkets also considering rationing to avoid panic buying.

How long could water rationing last in the UK?

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How long water is rationed depends on how long the drought status lasts.

Although this is a temporary restriction, it could apply for a longer period if dry weather persists and rainwater is not collected.

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In this case, the reservoirs remain at low levels, which means that essential services can still be prioritized.

After rainfall has been recorded in the region, it may still be some time before restrictions are lifted as lakes, rivers and reservoirs try to fill up again to normal levels.

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What are the current water levels in England?

The Environment Agency has confirmed that the total stock of England’s reservoirs was down to 65% of its usual capacity at the end of July.

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This marked a record low for the summer since 1995.

The data has also shown that rainfall for the country has been below normal – just 12% on long-term average in the north-east of England and 0% in the south-east and south-west of the country.

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In addition, The Rivers Trust has found that only 14% of England’s rivers are in good ecological status, with data also showing that 90% of sites record below average readings and 29% are classified as ‘exceptionally low’.

How bad is the drought?

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The Environment Agency is working to explain drought status on a scale of four levels.

  • A ‘yellow’ stage means ‘persistently dry weather’ – this means animals and plants could be at risk.
  • An ‘amber’ phase means ‘drought’ – dry weather will put public and private water supplies under stress, with crop failures and local wildfires expected.
  • A ‘red’ stage means ‘severe drought’ – the environmental damage is widespread with public and private water supply outages.
  • Depending on the severity of the initial warning, a final “amber” phase would be declared, with this final phase signaling a “drought recovery”.

Eight regions in England have been moved from the ‘Amber – Prolonged Drought’ phase to ‘Amber – Drought’.

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  • Devon and Cornwall
  • Solent and South Downs
  • Kent and South London
  • Herts and North London
  • East Anglia
  • river thames
  • Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire
  • East Midlands