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February 21 2012.

Everyone must find a way to save water to help limit the effects of drought, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said yesterday following a major summit. This came on the same day it was announced that the South East is now officially in drought.

The summit, which was called by the Environment Secretary after another year of much lower than average rainfall, brought together key players in the water industry to discuss what is already being done to tackle drought and to decide upon actions that need to be taken to mitigate against its impact in the future.

As parts of the UK have been affected by droughts for many months and prolonged periods of heavy rainfall in the near future are unlikely according to recent Met Office forecasts, the Environment Secretary urged water companies, businesses, and people to find ways of reducing water waste and water usage.

Speaking after the water summit today held at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said: "Ensuring we have enough water this summer is vitally important, and that is why I called the summit today.

"Drought is already an issue this year with the South East, Anglia and other parts of the UK now officially in drought, and more areas are likely to be affected as we continue to experience a prolonged period of very low rainfall.

"It is not just the responsibility of Government, water companies and businesses to act against drought. We are asking for the help of everyone by urging them to use less water and to start now."

At the summit the Environment Agency presented an in depth analysis of the current drought situation and the subsequent effects on the environment. This then led to a focused discussion on actions that must be implemented to act against the environmental bearing of such dry conditions.

Water companies at high risk of drought have agreed to:

- reduce water losses and increase leakage detection;

- engage and communicate with their customers to help them understand the current position and encourage them to use water wisely;

- co-ordinate temporary restrictions on water use, such as hosepipe bans, from an early stage in the spring where necessary; and

- talk to the Environment Agency about drought permits as early as possible. Companies need to factor in that demand measures should be in place before a company applies for a drought permit during the spring and summer.

The Environment Agency's national and local drought teams will continue to lead on managing and monitoring drought and its effects locally and will:

- encourage farmers to set up water abstractor groups and consider on-farm storage;

- keep farmers up to date about the local risk of drought restrictions next spring and summer to try and avoid irrigation bans;

- issue warnings and advice on the prospects for spray irrigation.

- prepare more detailed action plans in consultation with others for 2012 if the dry weather continues

- carry out environmental monitoring studies to determine the long-term impacts on fisheries and biodiversity and share the results with interested groups and communities;

- determine water company drought permits (and support government on drought orders) where required;

- begin to look ahead to 2013 at the possible implications and actions of a third dry winter in drought affected areas; 

- check abstractors are complying with conditions on their abstraction licences and take enforcement action against those who don't.

In early March the Environment Agency will publish its latest drought prospects report, which sets out the areas that are likely to be affected by drought in spring and summer 2012. The report aims to help water companies, farmers and other water abstractors plan for the year ahead, and sets out clear actions that these groups should take to help manage the country's valuable water supplies.