Drought Management Plan Consultation

Our Drought Plan outlines the way we would respond in a drought situation and the actions we would take as it progresses. This plan, if put into action, has the potential to impact the way our customers use water. We operate in a dry and densely populated area of the country and are at risk of experiencing droughts. Our aim is to ensure we are better prepared for these events than ever before.

We are not starting from scratch, this plan is based on our previous experience of drought events and how we have managed them, as well as experience from across the water industry. This Drought Plan marks a step change in our approach from earlier plans and signals a greater focus on our environmental responsibilities as a key custodian of the local environment in which we serve. This is primarily an operational plan in remit, but it also articulates the vital importance of early communication to mitigate the indicators of environmental stress that tell us a drought may be near. Droughts are complex and their impacts and risks can be difficult to mitigate – we are committed to working collaboratively with our communities to increase understanding and find solutions that deliver the best outcomes for all.

Our Drought Plan includes the actions we would take to manage the effects of drought on our water supplies. These include demand management actions, when we would ask our customers to use less water, either voluntarily or through temporary use restrictions, depending on the severity of the situation. In severe droughts, we can also apply for drought permits and orders to take more water from underground aquifers where necessary, and further limit what we use water for.


Consultation now closed

Thank you to all those that provided feedback on our draft plan, we are reviewing all the comments we received. We will publish a Statement of Response on our website. This will detail each of the representations made on our Plan, and explain whether we have made changes to the Plan as a result. Where we have not made changes as a result of comments, we will explain why.

We are also consulting on our Strategic Environmental Assessment for both the DMP and WRP24 - to hear more about our proposals click here.


Our Drought Plan outlines the way we would respond in a drought situation and the actions we would take as it progresses. This plan, if put into action, has the potential to impact the way our customers use water. We operate in a dry and densely populated area of the country and are at risk of experiencing droughts. Our aim is to ensure we are better prepared for these events than ever before.

We are not starting from scratch, this plan is based on our previous experience of drought events and how we have managed them, as well as experience from across the water industry. This Drought Plan marks a step change in our approach from earlier plans and signals a greater focus on our environmental responsibilities as a key custodian of the local environment in which we serve. This is primarily an operational plan in remit, but it also articulates the vital importance of early communication to mitigate the indicators of environmental stress that tell us a drought may be near. Droughts are complex and their impacts and risks can be difficult to mitigate – we are committed to working collaboratively with our communities to increase understanding and find solutions that deliver the best outcomes for all.

Our Drought Plan includes the actions we would take to manage the effects of drought on our water supplies. These include demand management actions, when we would ask our customers to use less water, either voluntarily or through temporary use restrictions, depending on the severity of the situation. In severe droughts, we can also apply for drought permits and orders to take more water from underground aquifers where necessary, and further limit what we use water for.


Consultation now closed

Thank you to all those that provided feedback on our draft plan, we are reviewing all the comments we received. We will publish a Statement of Response on our website. This will detail each of the representations made on our Plan, and explain whether we have made changes to the Plan as a result. Where we have not made changes as a result of comments, we will explain why.

We are also consulting on our Strategic Environmental Assessment for both the DMP and WRP24 - to hear more about our proposals click here.


  • Hear from Pauline (Affinity CEO) on the launch of our Drought Plan Consultation

    supporting image

    We enter this next drought planning period at an interesting point in Earth’s history. With worldwide events that will have implications for generations to come, now seems a fitting opportunity to reflect on the changing priorities of our customers and stakeholders and ensure our plans still meet your needs. We have listened to what matters to you, and to meet these expectations we have taken a new approach to our Drought Plan.

    You asked us to engage with you sooner during times of water shortage and to take more actions earlier, before water supplies become stretched and at points when we may start to see environmental stress. Our plan explains how we will do that. Written in a style that is simpler to read and easier to navigate, my hope is that more of our customers and stakeholders can access our plan and in so doing understand the actions we will take during times of drought.

    Our new Drought Plan is an operational guide for staff and also a commitment to our customers on how we will ensure we balance the needs of water demand and the environment during times of water shortages.

    I hope you will make valuable use of the information we have provided.


  • Supporting our environmental ambitions

    supporting image

    Working in partnership with the Environment Agency, our Revitalising Chalk Rivers Programme has been expanded in the current five year planning period and now includes the following rivers in our region: Ver, Lea, Mimram, Misbourne, Gade, Beane, Upper Chess, Bulbourne, Colne, Ivel, Cam, Brett and Dour . The programme has so far reduced groundwater abstraction and implemented river restoration works to improve over 120km of chalk streams. We have also supported flows in the Rivers Hiz and Rhee as well as the Cam through our flow enhancement operations by pumping water from our boreholes into the rivers when the local environment requires it.

    Through the Water Industry National Environment Programme we will continue to invest extensively in delivering habitat enhancements in 13 chalk streams through 56 river restoration projects. We will also reduce our abstractions in chalk catchments by 33.71 megalitres a day (Ml/d) by 2025. Our aim is to improve the long-term resilience of these important habitats, which will help to improve their ability to recover from naturally occurring events such as drought.

    Since 1990 we have undertaken in-depth investigations on most of the chalk river catchments within our supply areas. These have helped to improve our understanding of how these catchments function, and how they respond to factors such as droughts and abstraction. We have used that knowledge to make decisions about where to reduce abstraction where our operations may be having an impact and going forward, we will continue this commitment.

    Our drought plan supports our environmental ambitions by minimising the impacts of drought on the environment in our region wherever possible. In line with the Environment Agency Water Company Drought Plan Guideline (2020) , our plan prioritises taking actions that have the least environmentally damaging impact. This includes operational as well as demand management actions like promoting water efficiency.

    In this round of planning we have included enhanced environmental monitoring to ensure we are closely following conditions on the ground and work to mitigate the impacts of any actions we may need to take during a drought.

  • Where our water supply comes from

    supporting image

    The majority of the water we supply comes from aquifers below the ground – please see the accompanying graphic which illustrates a typical groundwater system in our area.

    Aquifers are a body of porous rock or sediment that can store water, known as groundwater. These are complex systems and it is important for us to understand the nature of interactions between groundwater, surface water (river flows and lake levels) and how our abstractions could affect these. In our supply area, the main aquifer is made of chalk which also helps feed our local rivers and globally rare chalk streams. When groundwater levels are high, the rivers flow along most of its length, when groundwater levels are low, some rivers will begin to dry out, particularly in the upper reaches. This is a natural process and these parts of the river are known as winterbourne or ephemeral reaches, as they do not flow all the time.

    Groundwater levels are most strongly influenced by weather (particularly winter rainfall) and naturally vary with the seasons. However, our operations can also affect groundwater levels in some areas, which is why we pay close attention to the impact this has on the environment. We have an extensive environmental monitoring network and are investing significant amounts into improving habitats in local river systems, including through our Revitalising Chalk Rivers programme. This will help to improve the resilience of these habitats to drought events.

    Groundwater systems rely on winter rainfall to replenish water resources during what is known as the recharge period (typically October to April).



  • Working collaboratively across the South East

    supporting image

    The water companies of the south east of England recognise that as an industry we need to work collaboratively to share knowledge and best practice, co-ordinate and align communication to customers and stakeholders, and promote the efficient use of water resources. Therefore, we work closely with other water companies in our region as part of the WRSE and WRE groups. For example, we participate in the regular WRSE “dry weather” meetings which focus the risk of any potential future water shortages. In these meetings all water companies share information about their available water resources, weather forecasts, and any communication needed with customers about any emerging drought situation. These meetings are held all year round and stepped up in frequency when a risk of water shortages across the south east starts to emerge. The meetings facilitate collaboration between water companies and actions to ensure an effective regional response to a developing drought. By working together and following a joined-up approach to communication, we aim to reduce confusion so our customers clearly understand the pressure on water supplies and the environment during water shortages. We can thereby effectively communicate what we are doing, how they can use water wisely, and what water restrictions may need to be, or are being, imposed.

    This process is implemented through the Dry Weather Monitoring Group (DWMG) for which Terms of Reference have been agreed. The DWMG fulfils a purpose of provision of a regular update and information sharing forum when companies are operating in Business As Usual (BAU) mode but when near term risks can be observed, and a heightened level of preparedness is desirable. It will draw information from national, regional and local perspective and in turn provide updates which will help inform regional and national awareness and early preparedness.

    The basis for the variability of responses to water use restrictions from water companies in South East England.

    In the South East region water companies source their supplies of raw water in the following ways:

    1. River abstraction;
    2. Reservoirs filled by river abstraction or impoundment of river water;
    3. Groundwater abstraction from boreholes and springs.

    The percentage balance of these varies from company to company, and even within company areas and this causes variability in drought resilience and response.

    The impact of drought is felt in different areas and over different timescales. An agricultural drought affecting crop growth, for example, can occur after a few weeks of dry and sunny weather over the growing season causing unseasonably dry soil. In contrast, a water resources drought affecting the availability of water for potable supplies, take much longer to develop, after several months of below average rainfall, particularly winter rainfall which is critical for replenishing most water resources. The low groundwater levels, reservoir levels, and river flows that result from this type of dry period reduce the water available and poses a risk to a water company’s ability to supply its customers.

    To manage this risk, water use restrictions are an important measure that water companies can use to reduce demand during drought. They not only enable companies to maintain essential supplies but also help to conserve water resources in periods of water shortages and reduce the environmental impacts of abstraction.

    Water companies will only impose water use restrictions upon their customers if they are absolutely necessary, and in accordance with their Levels of Service for water supply. Water companies fully appreciate the confusion that can be caused when one company introduces restrictions but a neighbouring company does not. One of the reasons for this is the geographical extent of the drought: it may be very localised and not extend beyond the area served by an individual water company. Clearly from a customer point of view, if water use restrictions need to be imposed then a simple and consistent approach should be adopted across the South East.

    At the regional level, one water company may need to impose water use restrictions earlier in a drought than its neighbours, while another water company is able to withhold the imposition of restrictions until much later or not at all.

    The reasons why companies may have to react differently in terms of restrictions and their timing are explained below:

    Differing levels of drought severity across the region: Whilst droughts across the South East will generally be caused by a regional trend of several months of below average rainfall, sub-regional differences in rainfall amount may cause differing levels of water shortage across the region. In other words, the need to impose restrictions for one company may not equally apply to another.

    Differing vulnerabilities at Water Resource Zone level: Due to the way the water supply system has developed over time, many water company supply areas are sub-divided into Water Resources Zones (WRZs). These are defined as the largest possible zone in which all resources, including external transfers, can be shared and hence the zone in which customers experience the same risk of supply failure from a resource shortfall. WRZs can be divided into those dependent upon:

    • River abstraction only;
    • Groundwater abstraction only;
    • Reservoirs filled by abstracting local river water or by impounding river water;
    • Various combinations of the above.

    This mix of WRZ types means that even if there were not a significant difference in drought severity across the region, WRZs will tend to react differently to the same drought, with certain zones experiencing higher levels of risk to potable supplies than others. That means in similar drought conditions, rivers, groundwater sources and reservoirs across the region can respond differently in terms of risk to supply. For example, a WRZ dependent on combined river abstraction and reservoir storage for supply may have a different level of risk to one based on groundwater abstraction. This difference in WRZ vulnerability has an impact both at the company level and regional level. A water company may need to introduce water use restrictions in its more vulnerable WRZs but not need to extend the ban to the remaining zones in its area of supply.

    The introduction of the new powers in the form of the Temporary Use Ban (TUB) in 2011 provided an opportunity for the water companies in the South East to review their Drought Plans with a view to finding a clearer, more consistent and more unified approach to introducing water use restrictions across the region than in the past.

    The water companies in the South East have heldmeetings to discuss the development of their plans and ensure that they are implementing the powers as consistently as possible. The companies are committed to working collaboratively during periods of water shortages. In this context they have worked together to align the drought levels in their plans and to align as closely as possible the restrictions and exemptions that would be imposed when a TUB and a non essential use ban (NEUB) are implemented. However, due to the local differences highlighted above, the timing of drought plans and actions will vary across the region.



Page last updated: 16 August 2021, 10:27