The threat of a summer drought is hanging over seven million people in the North West of England, it emerged yesterday.
United Utilities, the company which supplies water from Cheshire to the Scottish border, is facing low supplies in its reservoirs and said that if there was no significant rainfall over the weekend, it would apply to the Environment Agency for a drought order.
That would allow it to take emergency steps in abstracting water from rivers and lakes, to conserve supplies and manage demand.
North-West England has had its driest first four months of the year since 1964, and in the past three months has only received 70 to 75 per cent of its long-term average rainfall. Wales and Central England have also had a dry start to the year, but the North-West is by far the worst affected.
Yesterday United Utilities, which is Britain's second biggest water company, said its reservoirs should be 80 per cent full at this time of the year, but at the moment some were as low as 61 per cent full.
A drought order would not immediately involve customers; the first effect on them would be a hosepipe ban, which is being considered, but is still a long way off.
The Environment Agency said yesterday that the water situation across England and Wales was "varied".