Stomach bug adds to drought discomfort

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The effect of one of the driest summers on record continued yesterday when schools in Devon were warned over a water-borne stomach bug.

A water company was also asked to explain why it is selling 2 million litres daily to a neighbouring supplier at a time when hosepipe restrictions have been imposed on its own customers.

Headmasters at 80 schools in Devon have been advised to take precautions to protect their 23,000 pupils and 2,000 staff from the cryptosporidium bug, which is feared to be lurking in storage systems.

All the schools' drinking water should be boiled until South West Water gives permission for the supply and storage systems to be flushed out. This, it is hoped, can begin before the new term starts next week.

Devon education department's health and safety officer, Chris Doak, said that in the meantime, the council was investigating the bulk buying of bottled water for delivery to schools. School swimming pools will be taken out of use until the water has been tested for the bug, and salads will be taken off school menus.

Since South West Water issued a warning on 14 August advising 250,000 people in Torbay, Teignbridge and South Hams to boil their water, 333 people have been effected.

Meanwhile, Ofwat, the water industry regulator, has written to Severn Trent asking for details of its sale arrangement with Yorkshire Water.

In a letter to its managing director, Brian Duckworth, Ofwat consumer affairs director, Clive Wilkinson, said: "Now that Severn Trent has imposed a hosepipe ban on its customers, these same customers will have difficulty understanding the export of water to other regions where it is claimed there is no hosepipe ban." Severn Trent was also attacked by the Labour Party for behaving like a "Third World tin pot dictatorship" over the issue.

Severn Trent, however, insists it is legally bound by a long-standing agreement to supply the water to its neighbour, though the letter asks if there is a get-out clause in the event of a drought.