Drought Highlights Need for Strategic Water Management

The Association of Drainage Authorities (ADA) is seeking strategic long-term action to ensure England is better prepared to meet the water management challenges posed by future heatwaves.

An agricultural drought summit has been called for tomorrow (Wednesday 1st August), and ADA’s chairman, Robert Caudwell will join representatives from farming organisations, Defra, the Environment Agency, Natural England, and the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), to discuss what can be done to help mitigate the impact of the prolonged dry weather and heatwaves.


Many parts of England and Wales only saw their first significant rainfall since the end of May over the weekend, and the arid conditions have impacted farmers, the environment and indeed the public. ADA members, including internal drainage boards (IDBs) and the Environment Agency, have been working hard, in close liaison, to manage water levels in rivers and watercourses, prolonging the availability of water both for abstractors and the environment.

Talking ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, Robert Caudwell said, “This Summit foffers an opportunity for the farming sector, Defra and its agencies, to look to address together immediate and strategic water resources needs.

“Both prolonged dry periods, and intense rainfall events, appear to be becoming an ever-increasing feature of Britain’s weather. We need to ensure that we have the infrastructure, regulations and plans in place to capture and store the deluge and maximise its availability when we need it.

“Such plans must prioritise the UK’s essential water needs, whether that’s for drinking water, energy supply, the environment, or food production.”

ADA would like this thinking to incorporate policies and regulations that:

  • enables greater water storage and more strategic reservoirs that meet an array of water needs

  • supports the important role of local water managers, like internal drainage boards

  • builds stronger regional partnerships between water managers and users

  • facilitates, rather than inhibit, the effective transfer of water to meet those strategic needs

  • emphasises the importance of water efficiency, whether by consumers, abstractors or those managing our water systems

  • recognises the importance of good and regular maintenance of watercourses and water control assets to the health of the water environment.

Case Study from Andrew Newton, Engineer, Ely Group of IDBs

In June, we recorded no rainfall at our headquarters in Prickwillow, Cambridgeshire, with only 1.5mm being recorded at our outlying depots.

Over the month, we closely monitored water levels and have been operating in the region of fifty inlets from main rivers such as the Great Ouse to supply water to the South Level of the Fens. Within our drainage districts we operate 150 of our internal control structures, to send water where it is needed. With many farmers wishing to irrigate, one vital role we undertake is to manage people’s expectations, liaising with landowners to ensure everyone can have fair access to water.

Our first restrictions of the year were placed on the Hundred Foot river system of the Littleport & Downham Internal Drainage Board. The Environment Agency brought these into force on 6th July, following discussions with me. The restrictions mean that irrigation can only take place between the hours of 1800-0600 hours, seven nights a week. This early intervention has allowed us to maintain water levels in the District, to avoid a total ban on irrigation.

Again, on 17th July we had further discussions with the Agency staff in relation to water supply in the South Level System. The Agency issued letters to licence holders, placing them on the similar restrictions as the Hundred Foot area. This opportunity again helped prolong the opportunity to irrigate and allows opportunities for the system to recover.

During this period, we will work with those farmers who have invested in reservoir storage, to move water from their storage area to where it is needed. This will allow them to legally irrigate when needed. Many farmers who I have spoken to see the night time restrictions as a sensible approach, given the current weather conditions.

We have also managed our Hurst Drove Reservoir, situated on the edge of Ely, to supply water to areas adjacent to the reservoir that have no direct feed from the rivers system.


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