Save water warning, as drought is declared in parts of East Anglia

Families across East Anglia are being urged to save water, as parts of the region become the first in the UK to be declared a drought zone this summer.

Eastern England was the driest part of the country in May with less than half the expected rainfall. Some areas have seen less than 5mm since February.

Last night the Environment Agency said it would be declaring a drought for parts of West Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire.

'They are currently of the most concern but river levels are falling across the East of England,' a spokeswoman said.

'We've been working with farmers and there are some voluntary restrictions in place.

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'Depending on the temperature and the rainfall, we might have to impose further restrictions on farmers.

'Everybody's got a part to play by making efficient use of water but what would really help would be several weeks of heavy rain.'

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Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman last night urged consumers to save water.

'Drought has hit parts of East Anglia, with other areas in England and Wales also giving grounds for concern,' she said.

'Water companies are confident that supplies are high enough so that widespread restrictions to the public are unlikely.

'We're doing all we can to reduce the impact on agriculture and wildlife, but everyone can play their part.

'Households know how to use less water and everyone can do their bit to use water more wisely, not only through the summer, but throughout the year.'

Mrs Spelman is set to hold a second drought summit to review the impacts of the continuing dry weather.

Farmers in the Fens have already been told to water their fields at night to reduce the amount lost to evaporation.

Crop yields are expected to be reduced across the region. But Clare Rowntree, an economist with the National Farmers Union, said a poor harvest was unlikely to lead to major increases in food prices.

'At present it is thought that the impact on food prices will be small,' she said. 'Less than 10 per cent of the cost of making bread comes from the price of wheat.

'Having said this, many livestock farmers will be concerned by the potential increase in the cost of feed across the country.'

While East Anglia is one of the driest parts of Britain, the reservoirs which supply half our drinking water remain almost brim-full.

Last night Anglian Water said it had no plans to bring in hosepipe bans and standpipes.

'Our supplies are still secure and we're not expecting any restrictions this year,' said spokesman Ciaran Nelson.

'What it does mean is a timely reminder of how important water conservation is and how we all have to do our bit.'

Mr Nelson said Anglian's reservoirs - Graffham, Rutland Water and Pittsford - were 87pc full.

Around half of East Anglia's water comes from reservoirs, half from boreholes and 10pc from river abstraction.

Anglian's reservoirs are replenished by ground water over the winter - meaning a dry autumn and winter would be needed to see a drought on anything like the scale of 1976.

'If we're still in this position next year we'll be considerably more concerned than we are now,' said Mr Nelson.

'It's consecutive dry seasons that concern us - not consecutive dry months.'

Last night hosepipe bans were being predicted in Staffordshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire within a fortnight unless there is persistent rain.

Severn Trent Water, which supplies 3.7m customers across the Midlands, said parts of its region had seen the driest spring since records began.

The Met Office said there would be showers but no persistent downpours over the next few weeks.

A report is due out later today from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, which monitors rainfall and river levels.

Spokesman Barnaby Smith said: 'There's been a severe lack of rain and it's causing an impact in some areas.

'If you're a farmer or a fish in certain rivers, you're going to be thinking the drought's been about for a while.'

Barbara Greasley, a director of hire boat operator Norfolk Broads Direct and chairman of the Broads Tourism Forum, said water levels on the Broads were quite low but as yet there had been no impact on navigation.

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