United Utilities has been granted permission to take additional water from the Lake District to protect public water supplies.
The Environment Agency (EA) has issued drought permits, which will allow the company to abstract more water from Windermere and Scales boreholes in Cumbria, and Delph and Rivington reservoirs in Lancashire.
The drought permits have been issued should they be needed later in the year and will apply for a limited period.
As set out in its drought plan, United Utilities is required to introduce a temporary use ban (or hosepipe ban), to help reduce demand for water, if the permits are used before the end of September.
United Utilities called off the hosepipe ban which was due to come into force on 5 August.
The EA said it is “good news” that water levels in the North West have “slightly improved” thanks to recent rainfall and efforts to conserve water.
But despite the “temporary respite”, the region has only received around half of the rainfall normally expected during May to July.
The North West has received 132mm of rain which is 56 per cent of the long-term average. Current forecasts also suggest there may be continued lower than average rainfall into autumn.
Jim Ratcliffe, Environment Agency drought manager, said: “The Environment Agency uses regulatory powers to manage water availability to maintain essential supplies for people and the environment and will always balance the needs of the public, industry, farmers and the environment.
“As the dry weather is set to continue in to autumn, there could still be restrictions later in the summer so we continue to urge everyone to use water wisely.”
He added: “We continue to work with water companies across the country to ensure they are following robust drought plans.”
The drought permit for Windermere enables United Utilities to take additional water from the lake but only at times when flows are high enough to protect both levels in the lake for tourism and recreation uses, and the wildlife in the River Leven.
The drought permits for Delph reservoir, in Egerton, Bolton, and Rivington reservoir, Lancashire, will allow United Utilities to reduce the “compensation flow” of the water it is required to release downstream.
The drought permit for Scales boreholes will allow United Utilities to take more water over the year, so the company can abstract at its daily rate for longer.
Any drought permit is only issued after public consultation and a review of all the available environmental data, the EA said.
In the last three months alone, there have been more than 2,000 dry weather incidents reported to the EA.
As well as the four drought permits that have been granted, United Utilities also applied for a drought permit for Ullswater in Cumbria, following a period of prolonged dry weather and exceptional low rainfall. This is currently being considered by the agency.
A United Utilities spokesperson said: “We are continuing to work closely with the EA in monitoring the situation to ensure we have enough water in supply right across the region while balancing the needs of customers, the impact on water sources and the local environment. Our teams have agreed to process the drought permits we have submitted so that they are available should we need them later down the line.”
United Utilities had also applied to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for a drought order allowing it to take more water from Ennerdale, which feeds the River Ehen and is a special area of conservation.
The application has since been withdrawn as levels in Ennerdale are “looking healthy” after the recent rainfall.