LONDON - Large parts of England are likely to remain in an official drought until next year, prompting the water industry to push for restrictions such as bans on cleaning aircraft and industrial facilities.
Water companies are also seeking permission to extract more from rivers, or to keep taking water even when levels drop below certain thresholds, according to documents from a National Drought Group (NDG) meeting seen by Bloomberg News.
The utilities need to be granted special permits to impose limits on commercial water usage. Many already have hosepipe bans in place, which stop households from watering their gardens.
The NDG applied official drought status to swathes of England and Wales last month amid an extremely dry summer during which temperatures exceeded 40 deg C for the first time on record. Many areas are set to keep the status into the winter.
"I think it's highly likely some areas will still be in drought come 2023," said Mr Barry Bendall, operations director at the Rivers Trust, adding that the country needs "significant and constant rainfall" which is not currently forecast.
Extracting from natural supplies means "we're effectively increasing the stake in our big gamble that we're going to get lots of rain in the winter to recharge and replenish those groundwater systems", Mr Bendall added.
"We are therefore even more under-prepared for potential implications of further dry weather and drought in 2023," he said.
Another person familiar with the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the general view of people involved was that the drought will last into early next year.
Prolonged dry spells into the autumn would pose even more problems for British farmers who came under intense pressure during the summer heat waves.
Potato and other root crop growers are concerned about having enough water to irrigate their land, while low levels of rainfall have also led to worries about further cost hikes for horticulture.
Yields could be as much as 50 per cent lower for foods such as onions, carrots, apples and sugar beets.
Rainfall in September, October and November is unlikely to boost reservoirs and other water sources enough to end the drought.
The documents, which come from an NDG meeting earlier this month, said the Met Office's "outlook shows a risk of dry conditions continuing in the south and east of the UK, with little sign of the levels of rainfall needed to end current drought conditions".
The NDG was due to convene again on Sept 19, but the meeting has been postponed due to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.
The group is made up of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Environment Agency, water companies and other affected groups such as environmental charities and farmers.
The Environment Agency declined to comment. Water UK, which represents water companies, declined to comment. BLOOMBERG