A recent photograph of the dried-up River Kennet, the largest tributary of the Thames.
The River Kennet, the largest tributary of the Thames, has become a symbol of the current drought affecting the east and south of England.
Both aquifers, which are natural underground reservoirs, and man-made reservoirs rely mainly on autumn and winter rainfall to recharge them, and this has been below average in the last few months.
As a result the Kennet is running dry and Ardingly reservoir in West Sussex and Bewl in Kent are around two-fifths of their normal levels.
After a summit of water company representatives yesterday, environment secretary Caroline Spelman warned that: “Drought is already an issue this year with the South East, Anglia and other parts of the UK now officially in drought, and more areas are likely to be affected as we continue to experience a prolonged period of very low rainfall.
“It is not just the responsibility of government, water companies and businesses to act against drought. We are asking for the help of everyone by urging them to use less water and to start now.”
But is the drought really a problem of over-abstraction and bad management?
Water companies in drought-risk areas at yesterday’s meeting agreed to reduce water losses and increase leakage detection.
But they have been charged with this task since the droughts of the mid-90s, when they were losing up to a half of all their water.
Ofwat says leakage has come down about a third since then, but companies’ pipes still lose a staggering 1,501m litres a day.
This level of leakage is unlikely to fall lower unless the criteria for fixing the leaks is changed.