Hosepipe bans stay despite deluge

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The Independent Online
The drought may appear to be over for a drenched and wind-blasted Britain, but some water companies were still cautious and sceptical yesterday. Three still have hosepipe or sprinkler bans covering more than 2.5 million people, although few of these will be anxious to water their gardens in the next few days.

So far this year, England and Wales have had more than three times as much rain as the whole of last January, which was extraordinarily dry.

This one may turn out to be rather wet. On average, more than 50mm has fallen in the first five days. That is more than half the long-term average for the entire month.

The New Year's torrential opening follows above average rainfall for the November and December which closed 1997. Most reservoirs are full and water tables in the underground aquifers are rising towards their normal level after two and a half years of on-off drought.

But in some areas, mostly in the south east, ground water levels are still at or close to record low levels. Essex and Suffolk Water has no plans to lift its hosepipe and sprinkler ban, which covers 1.7 million people. And Sutton and East Surrey Water is maintaining its sprinkler ban in Sutton, covering 120,000. The two say months of average or above average rainfall are needed to bring things back to normal.

But the much larger Southern Water Company is likely to lift its hosepipe and sprinkler ban covering some 800,000 people in Sussex soon. ``Groundwater levels are at average for the time of year and as far as we're concerned the drought is over,'' said spokesman Geoff Loader.