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Drought

Information about how we manage and monitor water resources in Wales

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.

Working with partners

Natural Resources Wales works with the Environment Agency, Defra and the Welsh Government to produce guidelines for water companies to follow when they develop their plans. 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.

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 are available here

Dwr Cymru Welsh Water

Dee Valley Water

Severn Trent Water

United Utilities

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 droughtorders (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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