United Utilities has submitting three drought applications to request permission to increase the amount of water it abstracts from three water sources in Cumbria – Lake Ullswater, Lake Windermere and Ennerdale Water.

The company, which it about to impose a hosepipe ban across the region, has cited the warning of a severe water shortage as the reason for making these applications. These powers are necessary due to an exceptional shortage of rainfall which has resulted in very low storage levels in Ennerdale Water and a threat of a serious deficiency to public water supplies.

Water companies can make drought applications if there’s an exceptional shortage of rainfall and public water supplies are at risk.

The company must ask Defra for permission to increase its abstraction of water from Ennerdale Water because it feeds the River Ehen which is a Special Area of Conservation. It is requesting to increase, for a period of three months, its present drawdown limit from 1.7 metres to 2.5 metres below the crest of the dam.

If the Secretary of State for Defra grants this drought order, it will allow the company to continue to abstract water to help safeguard public water supplies within the West Cumbria Resource Zone.

United Utilities has also applied to the Environment Agency for two drought permits. The first requests permission to abstract water from Lake Windermere when the flow of the River Leven is lower than permitted under its current abstraction licence. If granted, this will result in a reduction of the amount of water needed to be abstracted from Haweswater and Thirlmere Reservoirs and help safeguard longer-term supplies for public use. If approved, the drought permit will apply for six months.

The second permit would allow the company to continue to abstract water from Ullswater when the flow in the River Eamont is lower than permitted under its current abstraction licence. This permit aims to increase storage in Haweswater and Thirlmere Reservoir. If approved, the drought permit will apply for six months.

Jim Ratcliffe, Environment Agency Drought Manager, said:

“Following the prolonged dry weather in the North West, United Utilities is asking to take more water from the lakes than the previous limit allowed which was in place to maintain levels that people enjoy, protect the environment, ecology and wildlife.

“We are currently checking whether we have all the information we need to begin to determine these applications. Any drought permit would only be issued to United Utilities after public consultation and a review of all the available hydrological data. The water resources situation could also improve if demand for water reduces or if enough rain returns to replenish supplies.

“The Environment Agency will always balance the needs of the public, businesses, industry, farmers and the environment.”

Martin Padley, United Utilities Water Services Director, said:

“The reducing raw water reservoir levels are not surprising given the ongoing lack of rainfall. Applying for drought permits is not a decision we have taken lightly, and we are working closely with the Environment Agency, to ensure that water supplies are protected for both customers and the environment.”


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