Hosepipe ban demanded to stem drought

A A A

Hosepipe bans for much of south-east England should be imposed immediately to limit the impact of one of the worst winter droughts on record, the Government's environmental watchdog has warned.

The Environment Agency has asked water companies in the South to ban hosepipes from next month to prevent more extreme measures being introduced this summer such as standpipes in the street and rota cuts in domestic supplies.

The agency said that the South-east was facing one of the most serious droughts for a century and water companies could not afford to be complacent about the low water levels in reservoirs and underground aquifers.

"Groundwater levels in some areas are the lowest on record and rainfall during winter has been the lowest since the drought of 1920-22," said Baroness Young of Old Scone, the agency's chief executive.

"We're seeing an impact on the environment, where fish-spawning in some areas has been poor, and we're concerned that we may soon see fish dying because of low river levels," Lady Young said.

Much of the country has experienced a drier-than-normal winter and, for the second consecutive winter, the South-east in particular has suffered exceptionally low rainfall.

The 15 months from October 2004 to January 2006 has been the driest period in the South-east since 1921, according to the Environment Agency.

Terry Marsh, a senior hydrologist at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), said winter rain was crucial to replenish underground stores which provide much of the drinking water for the South-east.

But the current drought is not likely to be as severe on a national scale as that of 1976, when much of the country had little or no rain for most of the summer after a dry winter, Mr Marsh said.

"In 1976 we had an extremely dry winter but now we've had two dry winters and it's most evident in a few chalk streams, where flows are currently just below those of 1976," Mr Marsh said. "We're seeing a drought that is pretty severe because it's not the sort of thing that happens every five years or so."

Mr Marsh supported the Environment Agency's call for stringent controls on water use such as a ban on non-essential activities such as washing windows and watering parks.

"If you're facing climatic circumstances that are as bad in some parts as anything we've seen since the 1930s, then restrictions in water usage are an appropriate response, both to preserve stocks for the public supply and to protect the environment," he said. A hydrological report by the CEH and British Geological Survey found that rainfall in January across much of the country was less than 40 per cent of normal levels, with some parts of the South less than 20 per cent below average.

"Last year, the same period was only marginally wetter and, taken together, they closely match 1962-64 as the driest successive November-January periods since 1932-34," the report said.

"Substantially drier 15-month periods have been recorded for England and Wales (such as in 1975/76 and 1933/34) but a distinguishing feature of the current drought is the disproportionate contribution of the winter months to the overall rainfall deficiency," the report continued.

"Correspondingly, the impact on reservoir and aquifer replenishment and on river flows has been severe in many areas."

Winter rainfall soaks through the soil to refill aquifers that have been depleted during the summer months.

With just a few weeks of winter left it is unlikely that there will be enough rainfall to avoid a summer drought in many parts of the South-east.

How it will affect wildlife

TREES AND WOODLAND: A summer drought after a winter drought will put all trees in danger.

GRASSLANDS: Most grasses die during droughts but can recover once the rain returns.

BUTTERFLIES AND MOTHS: Most species do relatively well in a summer drought.

GROUND BEETLES: Some do well while others will be more affected by the drought.

SALMON: Adult salmon stay lower down river in droughts, which means mortality rates are higher.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea