Drought in the UK
Drought in the UK: How to prepare
Increasing temperatures and a lack of rainfall means that the UK is heading for a drought. But there are ways we can prepare.
Last updated 09 June 2023
Long periods of dry weather and heat can cause drought and water shortages in the UK.
Make sure you're prepared for the effects a drought may have and how you can save water during periods of shortages.
What is a drought?
A drought means a prolonged period of shortages in the water supply. It can happen after an unusually low period of rainfall, for an extended period of time.
Without normal levels of rainfall, reserve water levels start to fall and plants and crops can die. If the dry period continues, it can become a drought.
In the UK, a government body decides when we are in drought conditions. They then work together with water companies to reduce the impact of drought on people in affected areas.
Government bodies that decide when drought conditions are met:
England Environment Agency (EA)
Wales Natural Resources Wales
Northern Ireland NIEA
Is the UK experiencing a drought?
Drought was declared in many parts of the UK in August 2022.
This was down to a number of factors:
- After a dry winter and spring, saw the hottest July since 1935 and record-breaking temperatures.
- Very low levels of rainfall in 2022.
These conditions scorched the earth and dried out reservoirs, bringing hosepipe bans across the country.
Despite heavy rainfall in the remainder of 2022, drought conditions were likely to remain into 2023. In February this year, the National Drought Group for England warned that another hot dry spell could see drought conditions could return in 2023.
How to prepare for a drought and water shortage
Water is a precious resource – it sustains life. While the EA is working with water companies on how to prepare for a drought and water shortage on a national level, we can all do our bit to help conserve water. Cutting back could even help to bring down our bills.
Saving water indoors
Make sure your home is leak-free. Take a reading of your water metre
Wait 30 minutes without using any water and then take a second reading. If the reading changes – you have a leak
Repair dripping faucets by changing washers – one drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons per year. Don’t pour water down the drain if there’s another use for it, like watering plants.
Saving water in the bathroom:
Take shorter showers and cut out baths
Replace your showerhead with an ultra-low flow version
Place a bucket in the shower to catch excess water for plants
Don’t let the water run while brushing your teeth or washing your face
Saving water in the kitchen:
Only use dishwashers when they’re full. Use the ‘light’ cycle and try not to rinse plates beforehand
Don’t waste water while waiting for it to become hot or cold – capture it for other uses, like watering plants
Use washing machines when they’re full, or set the water level for the size of your load
Saving water outside
There’s good evidence that grassy lawns grow back when it rains. So try to live with your brown lawn for now. Shrubs and trees are also a lot more water-tolerant than we think
Consider using a commercial car wash which recycles water instead of washing your own car
Get a water butt. When it does rain, you’ll have a supply especially for your garden and car
Don’t use ‘high quality’ tap water. Follow water conservation and water shortage rules in effect in your area
Staying safe in a drought
A drought could have an impact on your life and your loved ones in different ways.
You maybe asked to limit your water use to better conserve the water supply for an extended period of time. It’s essential this is done in a safe way to ensure it doesn’t impact your health or the health of others.
Here’s the UK government’s advice about staying safe in a drought.
- Stay informed. Be aware of any restrictions in place in your area like a hosepipe ban and make sure you follow the guidance. It’s also important to stay in close contact with your water company, so you are aware of any changes to your supply
- Maintain hygiene. It’s important that you continue to wash hands and keep good levels of hygiene even during a drought, to avoid the spread of infectious diseases.
- Stay hydrated. Droughts are common during hot weather and it’s important to make sure you are drinking water to keep yourself hydrated.
- Look after your mental heath. A drought can be a worrying and stressful time - many people rely on water for their livelihoods and jobs as well as personal supply. It’s important to look after your mental health.
- Reduce respiratory problems. Drought conditions can increase the amount of dust in the environment, which can trigger respiratory problems. Check air quality updates and carry an inhaler, if you use one.