Britain on Monday declared a drought in the southeast and warned that the rest of the country faced widespread water shortages this summer, with some supplies at their lowest for a quarter of a century.Despite Britain's reputation as having a rainy climate and the fact that it is still winter in the northern hemisphere, the government hosted a "drought summit" with water companies, farmers and wildlife groups.
Environment Minister Caroline Spelman said southeastern England had now joined the Anglia region in eastern England and other parts of the country in drought.
"More areas are likely to be affected as we continue to experience a prolonged period of very low rainfall," Spelman said. "We are asking for the help of everyone by urging them to use less water and to start now."
Water companies said only 73 percent of the expected rain had fallen on the southeast from October to January, the lowest rainfall for this period since 1992.
The River Lee, north of London, currently has only 24 percent of its average amount of water, Thames Water said.
Government agencies said some rivers and groundwater levels were lower than in Britain's drought of 1976, which came during a particularly hot summer.
The environment ministry said climate change, a rising population and changing household usage patterns were to blame for the pressure on Britain's water supplies.
"Despite our reputation as a rainy country, we may face a future with less rainfall and less certainty about when that rain will fall," it said, urging Britons to take shorter showers and fix dripping taps.
The average British household uses over 100,000 litres (26,000 gallons) of water every year.