An Eye on Our Environment Think big and act early to save water
Thursday 9th August 2018 10:33 Community Tameside Posted by Tom Greggan

The Environment Agency’s Lee Rawlinson pens his latest column as he keeps ‘An Eye on Our Environment’, and encourages you do to the same…

One of the most common questions I ask myself is where does the time go? Here we are already in August and, depending whom you ask, it’s either been a fantastic summer or a terrible one.

There is no doubt that we have had plenty of sunshine over the last few weeks which is great news for beach visits, BBQ’s and the overall enjoyment of the summer season. All of us here at the Environment Agency and our partners at United Utilities are seeing a different side however, as the ongoing dry weather means the return of an old foe.

There are many negative consequences of the warm weather.

Reduced rainfall is something I have experienced many times both personally and professionally. Normally, we see it in the warmer months but it can surprise us by also making an appearance during the winter.  Sadly, I’m watching and writing about it again this summer as it makes its presence felt across much of the North West.

Over the last eight weeks, we have seen our reservoir stores decreasing and our landscape across Greater Manchester becoming tinderbox dry. The consequence of this, as many of you know, has been devastating wildfires across the region, most notably at Saddleworth Moor at the end of June.

This major incident saw fires rage for more than a week and burn over several miles of moorland. During this time, we supported Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, (who in addition to Saddleworth were dealing with several separate Moorland fires exacerbated by the dry weather), to ensure we reduced the impact on people and the environment. We also worked alongside the local authority and Public Health England to monitor air quality, and offered vehicles, pumps and resources to the fire service, where needed.

As the Environment Agency, we have a big part to play in minimising potential impacts to communities and the environment and since the start of this dry weather spell, in addition to the fires, we have received reports of 131 incidents. These include low flows and lake levels, fish in distress, fish mortalities and algal blooms.

Consequently, we are now regulating water company’s and non-water company’s usage and our enforcement officers are carrying out inspections to assess compliance with licence conditions, clearing blockages from rivers and continually monitoring river flows and groundwater. We are also advising businesses and farmers on how to conserve their water.

Interestingly, this includes companies such as Chester Zoo who use boreholes to supply water for their elephant enclosure

As with any incident we face, alongside all of our frontline work, we are also thinking long term. The good news is we have experienced some rainfall recently; the bad news is it isn’t enough to replenish the water levels already lost. With forecasters predicting a return to hot dry weather, our regional demand for water has to be managed in the best possible way, by balancing the needs of people whilst protecting the natural environment.

That is why I am encouraging you, the readers of this column, to adopt the Environment Agency’s incident response culture of ‘Thinking Big and Acting Early’ during this period of dry weather.

Think Big: by looking at the ways you can save water around your home. For example, turn off the tap, spend one minute less in the shower and boil only what you need.

Act Early: by reporting any issues you see in your local watercourse to our incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60. This includes low levels, fish gulping for air / wildlife in distress or anything that simply doesn’t look right.

Using our water resources wisely now means the next time we face our foe of dry weather, and we will, we can have the benefit of planning and resilience on our side, keeping our rivers and taps running for the good of us all.

Lee Rawlinson is the Area Director for the Environment Agency’s Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire region. You can get more information about the work of the Environment Agency or what’s going on in your area by following them on Twitter @EnvAgencyNW.