A third of population now hit by water supply curbs

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One-third of Britain's population is now covered by hosepipe bans after Severn Trent, the second-largest water company, introduced its own restrictions yesterday to conserve fast dwindling supplies.

With no sign of a break in the hot weather, about 15,000 people around Cookstown, Mid- Ulster, have become the first in the United Kingdom to have their water cut off because of the drought. They are without water for eight hours each night. The whole of Northern Ireland is expected to be covered by a hosepipe ban next week unless there is rain - which is not forecast.

In London, the Department of the Environment is expecting a flurry of applications for further drought orders from water companies next week. If granted, these would allow more water to be taken from rivers and further restrictions on use beyond hosepipe bans to be implemented. If there is no rain between now and the end of the month, England and Wales will have had their driest summer since reliable records began in 1727.

Hosepipe bans now cover about 18 million people from Land's End to the Lake District. Three companies have already applied to the Government for drought orders, but none has been granted. Yorkshire Water is working on an application that would allow it to cut off households entirely and supply people with standpipes, but it has not yet decided to submit it for government approval.

Severn Trent's hosepipe and sprinkler ban covers 7.2 million customers. Its reservoirs are less than half full and demand has peaked this year at 570 million gallons a day, compared with a yearly average of 450 million gallons a day. "I think most of our customers will agree that brown lawns and dirty cars are a price worth paying to ensure that water remains available for everyone,'' Brian Duckworth, the managing director, said.

The water industry regulator, Ofwat, criticised Severn Trent's ban. ''We can understand the problems Severn Trent has but it is supposed to be in the business of providing water to its customers,'' said a spokesman.

"Severn Trent gave out pounds 87m to shareholders this year in dividends. They cannot argue they do not have the financial resources to tackle these problems. And they will be the first to admit leakage levels are too high."

There is concern that tens of thousands of war veterans and their friends and relatives gathering in London today for the VJ Day commemorations could suffer from heat stress. The veterans have been advised to bring soft drinks, to wear a hat and loose clothing and to sit down frequently during events. Large supplies of drinking water are being brought in.

A fire, probably started by a discarded cigarette, was raging last night over the Malvern Hills in Hereford and Worcester. It destroyed a square mile of vegetation but nobody was reported injured and no property was damaged.

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