A drought is a natural event that cannot be prevented. Every drought is different and each can have a different effect on people, businesses and the environment. Some droughts affect a large area while others are concentrated in a few catchments. 

Proper use of water resources

Natural Resources Wales is responsible for ensuring proper use of water resources in Wales and for making sure there is enough water for all needs, including environmental needs. We achieve this by regulating the abstraction of water, monitoring the environment and by working closely with the water industry and other abstractors to manage resources

Monitoring and drought permits

During droughts, we monitor and report on environmental impacts and monitor water companies' actions to confirm that they are respecting their drought plans. We also assess and adjudicate on drought permit applications. During a drought we work with water companies and others to manage effects on people, businesses and the environment. 

Our drought plan

Natural Resources Wales produces a drought plan which describes the indicators we currently use to classify the different stages of drought. Droughts are complex and can be measured in a range of ways. They also affect different elements of the environment and water users in different ways.

Flexible framework

Our drought plan provides a flexible framework for dealing with different drought events and is an operational manual for drought teams operating within Natural Resources Wales. It covers the key decisions and actions that our teams make and carry out to detect the onset and end of droughts and to manage impacts during a drought period.

Preparing for drought

We update our drought plans annually. We also undertake drought exercises to make sure we are ready for drought. These exercises are based on information from historic droughts and also serve to put the actions in our plans to the test. We work to ensure that our external communications during a drought period provide clear and detailed descriptions of how and where the drought is developing, what its effects are and what the future risks might be. 

Drought in European designated sites

Where actions in our drought plan could have an impact on European designated sites (Special Areas of Conservation or Special Protection Areas), we will undertake a Habitats Regulations Assessment to determine if our actions are likely to affect the site. If we consider likely effects to be significant, or if they cannot be determined, we will complete an appropriate assessment. 

NRW drought orders

We can apply for a Natural Resources Wales drought order if the environment is suffering serious damage as the result of abstraction during a drought. We will only apply for environmental drought orders if they prove necessary. For example, a drought order was granted in Wales during the drought of 1995/96 to reduce discharges from Llyn Celyn from summer compensation levels to winter compensation levels. This measure was introduced to build up an increased bank of water for use in protecting the environment. 

Water companies' drought plans

Water companies have a statutory duty to prepare, consult, publish and maintain a drought plan. These plans show how the water undertaker will supply water to customers during periods of low rainfall, when water supplies become depleted and how adverse effects during droughts will be minimised. 

Water companies are required to conduct consultations about their plans and we are a statutory consultee on draft plans. We respond to these by producing a formal representation.

Natural Resources Wales has produced a water company drought plan technical guideline (for a water company wholly or mainly in Wales) to follow when preparing a drought plan. The document is available here: water company drought plan technical guideline.

The Welsh Government’s guiding principles for developing drought plans for water companies wholly or mainly in Wales have been published separately to this guideline. The guiding principles set out the drought plan statutory process and policy expectations.  The Water companies should refer to the guiding principles in-conjunction with our guideline when preparing their drought plan.

If a water company is wholly or mainly in England, with sites that affect Wales, they will need to follow Defra and the Environment Agency’s water company drought plan guidance when developing their plan. When developing the content of their environmental assessments, environmental monitoring plans, Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) for drought management actions located in Wales, they should refer to our guideline. In particular, they will have to consider their obligations in relation to the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 and Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 for these sites.

Working with partners

We have consulted with the Welsh Government, the Environment Agency, Ofwat, Natural England and water undertakers in Wales when producing this guideline.  

Response statements

After receiving responses to the consultation, water companies must then produce a statement of response, setting out how they have dealt with the representations received. Natural Resources Wales provides advice to the Welsh Government about responses from water companies that are wholly or mainly in Wales. The Welsh Government may request a hearing or inquiry, or direct the company to publish its final plan.

The latest water company drought plans affecting Wales (either supply customers within or abstract from Wales) are available here

Dwr Cymru Welsh Water

Hafren Dyfrdwy

Severn Trent Water

United Utilities

Private Water Supplies 

Groundwater levels are fed by rainfall. Usually groundwater levels increase during winter and reduce through the summer. It can take some time for groundwater levels to increase in response to rain as water has to wet up the soil and then travel through the ground and into the spaces between rocks further underground. When there is a lack of rainfall over a long period groundwater levels can become exceptionally low and there may be impacts on private water supplies such as spring sources drying up or pumps running dry.

Advice for alternative domestic water supplies
During periods of very low rainfall groundwater levels can become exceptionally low. This may affect private water supplies.
A private water supply is any water supply which is not provided by a water company. Most private water supplies are situated in the more remote, rural parts of the country. The source of the supply may be a well, borehole, spring, stream, river, lake or pond. The supply may serve just one property or several properties.

Alternative supplies 

  • If water levels are very low take action to seek an alternative supply of water. Speak to neighbours to find out if they can supply you should your source of water dry up. If you use this option you should ensure that containers used to transfer water are cleaned and disinfected to prevent contamination. Guidance can be found on the prevention of contamination on the DWI website or the WRAS website
  • Find out if there is a mains supply nearby that you could connect to for a backup water supply. Contact your water company or local council for more information
  • The Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) has further information about regulations surrounding alternative water supplies in emergencies. This information also covers the roles and responsibilities of the local authority and local water company with respect to private water supplies in more detail

Actions you can take

  • Regularly monitor the water levels in your well or borehole or check spring flows.
  • Take water at a steady rate and at as low a rate as possible.
  • Use water efficiently
  • take showers instead of baths
  • turn taps off when brushing teeth
  • wash your car with a bucket not a hose
  • re-use bath water.
  • Ensure your pump is positioned below the water level. Your pump can be damaged if it is trying to pump in a dry well or borehole and can be costly to replace. Consider lowering your pump if possible.
  • Be aware that as water levels lower water may be drawn into the well or borehole from greater distances, this may affect your drinking water quality. If you have concerns, contact your local authority.
  • Consider deepening your well or borehole to reduce the chances of it drying up.
  • Consider installing water storage tanks to make your water supply more resilient when periods of dry weather occur.
  • Find out if there is a history of your source drying out in earlier droughts such as 1976, 1990-92, 1995-6 and 2005-6, and what happened then. This can help you understand how likely it is, and what actions have worked or been tried in the past.
  • Alternative supply
  • If water levels are very low take action to seek an alternative supply of water.
  • Speak to neighbours to find out if they can supply you if your source of water dries up.
  • Find out if there is a mains water supply nearby that you could connect to. Contact your local water company for advice.
  • The Drinking Water Inspectorate has further information about regulations surrounding alternative water supplies in emergencies. The local authority may be able to require water companies to assist where water supplies fail in domestic properties under certain conditions.

Useful links

Well Drillers Association

Drinking Water Inspectorate

Local councils

Water Regulatory Advisory Scheme

Applications for permits and drought orders by water companies

Water companies can apply for drought permits or orders to help maintain public water supplies or protect the environment where there has been an exceptional shortage of rain. Information can be found on the how to apply for drought permits and orders page.

Applying for drought permits (to Natural Resources Wales)

Drought permits are granted in Wales by Natural Resources Wales and in England by the Environment Agency. 

Applying for drought orders (to Welsh Ministers / Secretary of State)

Drought orders are granted in Wales by Welsh Ministers and in England by the Secretary of State. 

If granted, drought permits or orders allow water companies to: 

  • Abstract more water
  • Reduce other abstractions
  • Restrict certain types of water use

Drought orders also permit Natural Resources Wales / Environment Agency to modify, restrict or stop abstractions in order to protect the environment. 

Wales Permitting Centre

The Wales Permitting Centre (WPC) within Natural Resources Wales deals with water company drought permit applications and responds to ministers about drought order applications in Wales.

When dealing with drought permit and order applications, we follow the guidance available in the joint Welsh Government, Natural Resources Wales, Defra, Environment Agency guidelines.

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