Millions of litres of extra water is being transferred into Essex to keep reservoirs topped up, despite its source “developing drought” conditions.

The Environment Agency which manages the Ely Ouse transfer system, has said that while the Ely Ouse and River Cam are in a ‘developing drought’ status, there is enough water in the system to make these transfers.

The EA said that when there is less water available the flow will decrease.

In early June the rates of transfer to the River Pant were reduced to 35 million litres a day. But because of wetter conditions in mid and late June the amount of the water transferred into Essex has increased to up to 119 million litres a day.

The Environment Agency, which manages the scheme to divert water into the Rivers Pant and Blackwater, says the decision was as a result of recent rainfall.

Essex is the driest county in the UK. During a dry year, insufficient water is available from within Essex to meet customer demand.

Since the 1970s, Essex has relied on transfers of water from the Ely Ouse to fill Abberton and Hanningfield reservoirs, which between them hold 66,000 megalitres of water.

Under the scheme, surplus water which would otherwise flow into The Wash, is transferred to fill the reservoirs via the Pant and Blackwater.

While the amount of water has increased to meet Essex’s needs the Environment Agency has also warned of tightening restrictions on farmers’ ability to abstract water.

The EA has warned that because of the developing drought in the Cam and Ely Ouse catchment areas following one of the driest springs on record, river flows and some groundwater levels are ‘below normal’ in locations along the rivers Cam and Ely Ouse. In addition, the soil condition means it is soaking up water faster.

Abstraction licence holders in the most affected areas are likely to receive notice to restrict the amount of water they take as described in their licence conditions.

This may include taking reduced quantities or only abstracting at particular times, depending on local circumstances.

A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said: “The Ely Ouse Transfer Scheme has been discharging water into Rivers Pant and Blackwater since early April. The rate the water is transferred varies depending on the water available.

“Transfers to Essex are determined by a number of factors; the amount of water stored in Essex reservoirs, the available water in Essex rivers and the availability of water from the Ely Ouse catchment to transfer.

“Current reservoir levels are lower than they should be for this time of year due to unprecedented demand for water during lockdown however, because of the wet winter, there is sufficient water to transfer.

“At the current rates of flow and demand we anticipate transfers to continue through July.”