Record April showers end drought in 19 counties

The hosepipe bans have not been lifted just yet, but river levels are returning to normal

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The Independent Online

April's record rainfall has brought much of England out of drought status, the Environment Agency announced today.

The heaviest “April showers” since records began in 1910, combined with a similarly sodden beginning to May, have allowed official drought status to be lifted for 19 counties in the South-west, the Midlands and Yorkshire, the agency said.

However, much of eastern and southern England is still in drought after two extremely dry winters, while hosepipe bans imposed five weeks ago remain in place, with no sign of them being lifted in the near future.

The downpours of the last month have restored flow levels in many rivers – in half the sites monitored by the agency, flows which had dropped to unusually low levels by March are now at levels which are notably or exceptionally high. Similarly, water levels in many previously depleted reservoirs are also recovering.

The exception remains groundwater levels, which at nearly half the sites monitored by the agency remain “exceptionally” low.

“Low groundwater levels remain a concern across many parts of England, with many still at a similar level to those in 1976 and unlikely to return to normal levels before the winter,” Dr Paul Leinster, the chief executive of the Environment Agency, said. “A return to a long period of dry weather would increase the risk again.”

But he added: “The recent record rainfall has eased pressure on water resources in some parts of England, helping levels in rivers and reservoirs to recover and providing relief to farmers, gardeners and wildlife.”

Official drought status was today lifted for South Yorkshire, East Yorkshire, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Bristol, parts of Gloucestershire, parts of Hampshire, most of Wiltshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, West Midlands, Warwickshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire. This means that water restrictions such as hosepipe bans are unlikely to be imposed in these areas over the summer.

The remaining area in drought is south and west of a line from Lincolnshire to Sussex, taking in Oxfordshire, where hosepipe bans imposed by seven water companies remain in place. Thames Water, England’s largest water company with nearly nine million customers, warned that it was too early to talk of lifting the ban. “Despite all the recent rain, we still have a serious groundwater shortage, and we could yet have a long, hot summer, so, much as we’d love to, it would be irresponsible for us to lift the hosepipe ban just yet,” Richard Aylard, Thames Water’s sustainability director, said.

However, the firm said it could now rule out applying for a Drought Order allowing it to impose more serious restrictions on water use.

Temporarily, at last, Britain is on course for a reprieve from the wet weather: a dry weekend is now expected, after the latest band of heavy showers brought flash flooding and rising river levels as it moved across the North of England.