No ifs, just butts - the drought busters under people's homes

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The Independent Online

Households facing hosepipe bans and drought orders will soon be able to use a water system with a capacity 10 times larger than anything currently on the market.

On Friday, Thames Water became the fourth utility to apply for a drought order, which forbids the washing of cars and watering of sports grounds. Seven companies have already imposed hosepipe bans.

But now a company called Straight, which makes recycling containers and is listed on the Alternative Investment Market, is developing a system of underground water butts with a capacity of over 1,600 litres.

The system consists of several tanks located under a garden or house, linked together and powered by a pump to catch rainwater running off roofs. An average roof catches around 80,000 litres of water each year. Most water butts only have a capacity of 100 to 200 litres.

Jonathan Straight, chief executive, said his company's products should be ready for installation early next year.

Because of the size of the system, it is only practical to install during renovations or in new developments. Mr Straight said he would begin marketing it to housebuilders later this year.

He added that he wants water companies - which would benefit from the savings made - or the Environment Agency to help meet installation costs, potentially by providing grants.

The trade association Water UK has warned that the South-east faces a drought so severe that it would only be expected to happen once every century.

Decreasing rainfall has forced the Government to consider measures to reduce water use and boost supply, including building new reservoirs.

Water companies are also obliged to install meters in homes on request - a measure that has been shown to reduce use - but they complain that the process is expensive. If meter take-up is higher than expected, utilities are allowed to ask the water regulator to raise bills to pay for this.

Earlier this month, the bosses of the biggest water groups discussed these issues with Environment Secretary David Miliband.