Groundwater levels at a key monitoring site at Chilgrove have been classed as ‘notably low’ for this time of year by the Environment Agency.
Drought coordinator for the Solent and South Downs area, Nick Price said it was expecting levels to start recovering soon and that its officers were closely monitoring the River Lavant, which has not started flowing since winter started.
Mr Price said although a cause for concern, similarly low levels had occurred before.
“There have been years in the past when it hasn’t rained at all through the winter for example 1989/1990, those were two dry winters. There was a lack of rainfall and ground water levels didn’t recover.
“We have been watching the River Lavant flow closely, this is linked to groundwater levels. We have monitoring stations at West Dean and at Chilgrove and often by looking at groundwater level at Chilgrove we can see how that might affect the flow of the Lavant.
“The latest level at Chilgrove is quite close to the point where we should see springs at Singleton break, hopefully in the next week or two.”
Mr Price said the winter period had started off with low groundwater levels as a result of the very dry spring last year and that ideally, more rain was needed.
“We had a good start in December but we need more above average rainfall in January and February for that recovery of groundwater levels to continue so that we do get to the point in spring where we get levels back to normal.”
The December issue of EA’s monthly water situation report for the Solent and South Downs area stated that rainfall in the area was above average for the month, with groundwater levels ranging from normal to exceptionally low.
River flows ranged from normal to notably low while reservoir stocks were noted as recovering, but low for the time of year.
Chilgrove, which is situated in the Chichester Chalk aquifer changed in status from exceptionally low to notably low for the time of year.
Mr Price said the agency had plans in place if levels did not recover.
“It’s happened before. We are monitoring the situation closely and we have highlighted that there is a risk of drought this year.
“If we don’t get that rainfall we are already looking ahead and considering what actions we might need to take if those levels don’t recover.”
The agency said it was working with all its partners including the water companies.
As part of its work the EA constantly measures rainfall, soil moisture level, river flows and groundwater and reservoir levels.
In case of drought, water companies can apply to the agency for drought permits to make more water available for abstraction than under normal conditions.
For this to take place the agency said it would need to be satisfied the water company was acting in line with its drought management plan and that extra abstraction would not result in long term or significant damage to the environment.
The EA said it worked with water companies to ensure the needs of the environment and the needs of consumers were balanced.