Dry winter brings new drought warning

Changing weather patterns: Summer water shortages threatened as Britain shivers under snow and ice
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The Independent Online
Jojo Moyes

As most of Britain shivered under snow and ice yesterday, householders were given the news that they were likely to face more water shortages this summer. Neil Fishpool, chairman of the National Campaign for Water Justice, said: "Water customers are certainly not getting the service they were promised at privatisation. We want less investment into the bosses' pockets and more to the shareholders. If water companies cannot promise water supplies all year round then their licences should be revoked." A spokeswoman for Ofwat, the industry regulator, said: "We expect companies to take whatever steps are necessary to make sure last summer's situation doesn't occur. This means continuing with their hosepipe bans and tackling their leakage. We'll be monit oring them closely to make sure they meet targets." The reactions came as a National Rivers Authority (NRA) report ordered by John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, warned that some regions should brace themselves for restrictions as the unusually dry weather continues. The worst-hit areas a re Yorkshire, the North-west, Severn Trent and the South-west, all of which are likely to experience "supply problems" this year. The situation could be worse than last year because of the effect of seasons of low rainfall and depleted stocks. The Yorkshire region is still suffering a "very serious drought" in places, with some reservoirs at "critical" levels. The report says that if rainfall remained at below-average levels "shortages would occur and further contingency measures would be necessary". It says there is a "serious risk" of water-supply problems across the North-west as low rainfall had failed to replenish reservoirs. Levels in South West, Severn Trent, Welsh and Southern Water areas are also considered to give "cause for concern". "We've had the drought last summer and then this dry winter. You wouldn't expect those two together more than once every 200 years," Jerry Sherriff, head of water resources at the NRA, said. By the end of last month rainfall registered by the NRA had reached only 73 per per cent of the long-term average. Although admitting that householders were unlikely to welcome the news, especially since some customers - such as those of Severn Trent - were facing simultaneous hosepipe bans and bill increases, Mr Sherriff stressed that the water companies had done what they could. "The companies for months have been responding to the emerging worsening outlook ... For instance, there is pounds 300m being spent by water companies on getting emergency measures put in place," he said.