A DROUGHT has been declared across parts of England.
In the middle of a four-day "extreme heat" alert and after the driest July for 87 years, the government formally announced eight areas of the country are experiencing a prolonged water shortage.
The National Drought Group (NDG) met today to discuss the continued dry weather, which is expected to come to an end on Sunday with thunderstorms and heavy rain.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs later declared the most affected areas of England – the South West, parts of southern and central, and the East – are to be moved into drought status.
This includes: Devon and Cornwall, Solent and South Downs, Kent, south London and East Sussex, Herts and north London, East Anglia, Thames, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire, and the East Midlands.
Yorkshire and the West Midlands are expected to be moved into the drought category later this month.
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The Environment Agency (EA) and water companies are expected to implement further plans to manage the impact of low water levels, which may include further hosepipe bans – though they insist supplies are safe.
Restrictions are already in place across Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, the Isle of Man, Kent and Sussex amid a prolonged dry spell and "record demand".
Welsh Water has also announced those living in Pembrokeshire can no longer use hosepipes or sprinklers from August 19, and Thames Water has warned bans could cover Greater London, Thames Valley, Surrey, Gloucestershire and northern Wiltshire in the "coming weeks".
Yorkshire Water today became the fifth company in England and Wales to announce a ban, which begins on August 26.
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Director of water, Neil Dewis, said: "Our decision to introduce a hosepipe ban is based on the risk that water stocks continue to fall in the coming weeks and the need to be cautious about clean water supplies and long term river health."
Now a drought has officially been announced, more severe measures could be introduced, including a ban on cleaning windows and washing cars.
Watering plants or gardens, filling swimming or paddling pools, and maintaining ornamental fountains could also be temporarily prohibited.
And companies could apply for drought permits to extract more water from rivers and reservoirs.
If the situation worsens, companies may need to ration water supplies to homes and businesses at certain times of day, or ask customers to access water from standpipes or mobile tanks.
By this afternoon, temperatures are to soar as high as 35C in some areas, making Britain hotter than the Bahamas, Jamaica and Barbados.
A four-day amber alert for extreme heat from the Met Office is in place for much of England and Wales until Sunday, with warnings of health impacts and disruption to travel.
Forecaster Craig Snell said: "It's going to be an incredibly hot day, and very sunny across the board, with temperatures slightly higher than what we saw on Thursday."
There is also a heat health alert in place from the UK Health Security Agency, with experts advising people to look out for those who are older or with existing health conditions, as well as young children.
The ongoing dry conditions, combined with last month's record-breaking heatwave, have depleted rivers, reservoirs and aquifers and dried up soils, hitting agriculture, water supplies and wildlife and raising the risk of wildfires.
Four water companies in England and Wales had earlier brought in hosepipe bans or signalled their intention to do so, while the Wildlife Trusts have called for an England-wide hosepipe ban to protect nature and rivers.
Some water companies have failed to meet their own targets for cutting household leaks and domestic use, with many blaming the pandemic as more people have been at home.
Ofwat, the water regulator, said in a statement: "Progress has been made in the past few years but there is much further to go, which is why we are pushing companies to reduce leakage, fix their environmental performance and become more financially resilient while keeping bills affordable and helping customers reduce their consumption.
"Where we find that companies have fallen short, we will act – over the last five years, for example, we have imposed penalties and payments of over £250 million."
It comes after temperatures reached 34.2C at Wiggonholt, West Sussex, on Thursday afternoon, while many areas in southern England and Wales hit the low 30s.
Fires broke out in different areas, including London, Essex, Gloucestershire, Surrey and Cheshire.
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A drought was last declared in 2018 when rainfall was worryingly low.
The NDG is made up of representatives from DEFRA, water companies, the EA, the National Farmers' Union, Natural England, Consumer Council for Water, water services regulator Ofwat, Water UK and the Drinking Water Inspectorate, as well as the Angling Trust and the Rivers Trust.
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