YORKSHIRE was yesterday officially declared drought-free but a Government minister has admitted that a rethink will be needed if the country endures a third successive dry winter.
As well as Yorkshire, drought status was lifted for areas in the South West and the Midlands after heavy and persistent rain boosted river and reservoir levels.
The Environment Agency said water companies in those areas were unlikely to impose hosepipe bans on customers this summer.
Ground water levels are still low across the country, and parts of East Anglia and the South East remain in drought with hosepipe bans in place. Drought conditions were officially declared in south and east Yorkshire earlier in the year after the country endured two very dry winters in a row.
However the Environment Agency warned that a return to dry weather could lead to restrictions for farmers and problems for the environment later in the year.
Environment Agency chief executive Paul Leinster said: “The recent record rainfall has eased pressure on water resources in some parts of England, helping levels in rivers and reservoirs to recover and providing relief to farmers, gardeners and wildlife.
“The Environment Agency will continue to keep a close eye on the situation.
“Low ground water levels remain a concern across many parts of England, with many still at a similar level to those in 1976 and unlikely to return to normal levels before the winter.
“A return to a long period of dry weather would increase the risk again.”
Speaking to the Yorkshire Post prior to the ban being lifted, Environment Minister Richard Benyon said his department was giving serious consideration to coping with a third dry winter.
“We ask ourselves this question regularly, what do we do if we have a third dry winter?” he said.
“We announced last year with our White Paper that we want to see companies working together with their neighbours and to increase connectivity.
“We need to see a trade of water between companies so we can move water from where it is plentiful.
“This is the way forward rather than big capital schemes – it is not very economical to move water great distances.
“We have to continue to question ourselves and do all that we can, and I think we are doing all that we can, to plan to deal with a dry winter.
“But maybe there will come a time when we need to consider other things.”
River flows have gone from below normal levels at all sites in March to notably or exceptionally high levels this week in almost half of the spots monitored by the Environment Agency.
Heavy downpours continue to cause problems in the region.
The A59 at Blubberhouses was closed overnight yesterday between Kex Gill Road and Hall Lane as workers removed debris brought down by rainfall.
On Thursday, firefighters in North Yorkshire were called to help rescue 350 sheep and lambs in the Yorkshire Dales.
Rescue crews were also called to reports of flooded properties, mainly in the Skipton and Harrogate areas, with flash flooding affecting the village of Summerbridge.
Flood warnings remained in place last night for the River Swale at Kirby Wiske and for the River Ouse in the centre of York.
Less serious flood alerts were in place for the River Swale, River Nidd and the River Ouse.
Forecasters say Yorkshire should get respite from the wet weather with a mainly dry weekend after the latest band of heavy showers was due to work through overnight but rain is expected to return early next week.