Livingstone's advice to London: Don't flush the loo

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Londoners were asked to refrain from always flushing the loo by the capital's mayor, Ken Livingstone, as reports showed that the water shortage facing the south of England was becoming acute.

Lavatories should not be flushed when merely "taking a pee", Mr Livingstone said yesterday. The measure would be a matter of personal choice, he said, although he said he had changed his own behaviour.

The Environment Agency said that hosepipe and sprinkler bans were likely as parts of England dried up, despite recent downpours such as those that flooded the Glastonbury Festival.

South-east England has had the driest winter since 1976, the agency said, and the region has experienced eight consecutive months of below-average rainfall. A dry spring followed by a hot, dry start to summer has resulted in low groundwater, river and reservoir levels.

Of the eight water companies in the South-east, two have so far imposed water restrictions. But more may be needed to maintain supplies throughout the summer, and avoid more serious water shortages at a later date.

"This month we have only received 29 per cent of average rainfall in Kent, 17 per cent in Sussex and 41 per cent in Hampshire," said Ian Barker, the agency's head of water resources. "The Thames catchment has had 24 per cent of the long term average. There has been high demand for water, placing even greater pressure on this valuable resource. We are urging people to take note of advice issued to save water."

He added: "We are working closely with water companies to manage the impact of the drought on the public and the environment - as people use more water, more has to be taken from the environment. Where it is appropriate and necessary we support water companies imposing appropriate restrictions to help safeguard future supplies and protect the environment."

The agency said that steps people can take to avoid wasting water include:

* Limit non-essential use, such as washing the car.

* Avoid watering the lawn. Sprinklers can use as much water in an hour as a family of six uses in a day.

* Take a five-minute daily shower instead of a bath. This is likely to save up to 400 litres a week.

* Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth. A running tap uses almost nine litres per minute.

* A dripping tap can waste up to 30 litres a day - check taps on basins, baths and bidets for drips.