Water companies in southern Britain urged householders yesterday to take showers instead of baths to save water after a year of dry weather.
Seven companies issued a joint appeal yesterday to customers to limit the amount of water they use, including the advice to fill washing machines before switching them on and not to use hosepipes to wash cars. South-east England has the worst problem - the region had the driest August and September since 1873 with 27mm of rain compared with an average of 119mm.
WaterVoice, a consumer watchdog, supported the call by the companies and said that the industry had taken steps to preserve supplies by stemming leaks throughout the network. The industry has said that since 1996 water lost through leakage has been reduced by a sufficient level to meet the daily needs of 12 million people.
The South-east will be particularly susceptible to supply problems because of plans for house building and the large-scale redevelopment of the Thames Gateway.
John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, announced plans for a 40-mile linear city over the next 13 years, which includes 120,000 new homes to cope with the housing shortage in the region. One company, Mid Kent Water, has already submitted proposals for a new reservoir in the county to cope with the expected population expansion.
The companies' concerns were prompted by a dry autumn, which followed a lack of rain over the summer. Southern Water said its largest reservoir, Bewl Water in Kent, is half full. Thames Water has begun pumping water from an underground aquifer, a huge natural reservoir, in north London for the first time since 1997.
September was the eighth consecutive month of below- average rainfall in the South-east. Barrie Clarke, director of communications for Water UK, which represents suppliers across the country, said: "We are not looking at restrictions at the moment. We are not talking of a hosepipe ban, that would be strange to say the least." He added that there has been no widespread hosepipe bans for four years.
Martin Baggs, operations director at Southern Water, said: "Weuse more than ever, some 160 litres each day per person and Southern Water needs to meet that demand without harming the environment." The companies making the joint appeal were Thames, Mid Kent, Three Valleys, Folkestone and Dover, South East, Southern and Anglian.
A spokesman for the Environment Agency said: "The importance of having rain in the autumn and winter is to alleviate problems for next year. If rain doesn't come in the next few weeks, the situation will become more of a concern but the water companies have contingency plans in place."