Parts of the West Midlands are at high risk of drought thanks to unusually dry weather in 2011 and the start of 2012, the Environment Agency has warned.
Shropshire, Warwickshire, and parts of Staffordshire are likely to be hit by water shortages while the rest of the region is at “moderate risk”, according to the agency.
And the Midlands experienced the driest 12 months last year since records began in 1910.
But the region is expected to escape hosepipe bans, even if they are brought in for other parts of the country.
West Midlands MP Caroline Spelman (Con Meriden), the Environment Secretary, met the heads of water utilities in Westminster to discuss ways of saving water.
Proposals discussed included reducing leaks and bringing in as hosepipe bans from an early stage in the spring if needed, according to the Department for the Environment.
But Mrs Spelman urged the public to begin cutting down on water use now to try to limit the effects of drought if it comes.
She said: “It is not just the responsibility of Government, water companies and businesses to act against drought. We are asking for the help of everyone by urging them to use less water and to start now.”
The prospect of restrictions is already looming for parts of England after drought was officially declared in the South East this week, while parts of Eastern England, such as Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, have been in a state of drought since last summer.
A detailed report published by the Environment Agency warned: “In the Midlands, October 2010 to October 2011 overall rainfall totals were between 60 percent and 70 percent of the long term average, making this the driest 13 months on record.
“The driest counties were Shropshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, and parts of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Northamptonshire.”
The report said: “Lack of rainfall has reduced the amount of water in rivers and lakes and the amount of water that reaches aquifers, which means water levels and flows have dropped.
“Some water bodies have dried up completely or disappeared into the river bed for a stretch before they re-emerge downstream, such as a stretch of the River Dore at Peterchurch in Herefordshire which dried up in early September.”
There was one bit of good news for Birmingham, as rain in Wales meant water levels at the Elan Valley reservoirs which serve Birmingham are “above normal”. Water from Wales travels 73 miles along the Elan aqueduct to Frankley Reservoir on the outskirts of the city, where it is stored and used to provide drinking water.
In a statement to the Birmingham Post, the Environment Agency said: “We have had below average rainfall this winter. Last month, January 2012, saw 79 per cent of the long term average rainfall in the Midlands. This dry winter has followed a dry summer, resulting in groundwater levels being low and unable to recover.
“Because groundwater levels are so low, we would expect to see rivers running low and drying up earlier than usual this year. Some rivers are already exceptionally low for this time of year.
“Based on latest projections, Shropshire, Warwickshire, parts of Staffordshire and Leicestershire are at a high risk of drought for 2012. The rest of the Midlands region is at a moderate risk of drought. We are seeing some environmental impacts, such as rivers/ponds drying up or remaining low.
"We would expect to see more of these as we enter spring and it gets warmer and drier, and fish rescues may be needed where river flows are low.
“The dry conditions are also affecting farmers, some of whom have experienced restrictions to their water abstraction licences.”
But the region was likely to escape a hosepipe ban, the agency said.
“In general, Public Water Supply reservoirs in the Midlands are at, or close to normal range for the time of year, and water companies have so far been able to manage the situation. Severn Trent Water has said that it is not currently predicting any usage restrictions this year, despite record low rainfall over the winter period.”
The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management said the public could not expect to enjoy an unlimited supply of water – and called for the introduction of home water meters to encourage households to cut back.
Executive Director Nick Reeves said: “It is not as though we haven’t been warned. There is a vast body of evidence on climate change and its contribution to water stress is made worse by rising demand.
“The current drought conditions are yet another wake-up call for more urgent action on water efficiency, water metering and retro-fitting of water-saving devices.
"Public attitudes to water have got to change and the government must afford water a much higher priority in the planning of future developments, especially in water-stressed areas of the country.”