Britain could be in the grip of a nationwide drought within two weeks unless emergency measures were taken to cut the use of water, officials warned yesterday.
The Environment Agency appealed for people to reduce the amount of water used in their homes after seven months of unusually low rainfall.
The agency advised home-owners at act "water wise" by taking showers instead of baths and avoiding the use of hose pipes or car washing.
Despite a flurry of snowfall in parts of Scotland yesterday, much of England has had the lowest amount of rain since records began in 1873.
Rainfall during September remained less than half the long-term average, while this month is poised to become the driest October on record, with the south and east of England being worst affected.
At least two inches of rainfall were required within the next fortnight to avert national emergency measures, the Environment Agency said.
While autumn was traditionally associated with swollen rivers and springs as rainfall increased, many have instead been drying up.
River flows in Wales and the West Country were a fifth of the levels expected at this time of year, said Ian Barker, head of water resources at the Environment Agency. "We are now at the point where, in parts of the south and east of England in particular, groundwater levels are approaching the lowest levels we have recorded," he told Farming Today. "In some parts, springs are beginning to dry up. Farmers with shallow wells and shallow boreholes are having difficulties maintaining supplies to their houses and their farms."
The agency is planning to advise ministers to allow water companies to pump water into reservoirs from rivers if there is no rainfall by the end of the month.
After the long, hot summer, the South-east has had only 60 per cent of its average rainfall, while the Thames Valley area is 90 per cent down on normal levels, with Wiltshire and Oxfordshire hit the hardest.
"Under current weather conditions we have adequate capacity into the new year," David Simister of Yorkshire Water told today's Guardian. "However, the situation is constantly under review."Reuse content