Three firms seek drought orders

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Drought orders are likely be in place in several parts of Britain by the end of this week, when it is hoped thunderstorms and showers will break the dry spell.

Three of Britain's 10 privatised water companies have applied to the Department of Environment for drought orders to cope with dramatic falls in reservoir levels. The orders will allow them to draw extra water from rivers and ban car washes and some other commercial uses of water until the situation improves.

Yorkshire Water wants to take water from the river Wharfe and turn off ornamental fountains and park sprinklers in the west of its region. North West Water says it needs to tap Greenup Ghyll, a stream in the Borrowdale valley in the Lake District, said to be the wettest place in Britain.

In Cornwall, South West Water wants to impose a ban on all "non-essential commercial uses" in Land's End, Penzance and Falmouth.

About one-third of people in England are already affected by hosepipe and sprinkler bans introduced in five of the ten water regions. The latest, in Severn Trent, comes into force from midday tomorrow. In Northern Ireland, a hosepipe ban is expected to start this week and it was reported yesterday that Aviemore could soon join other Scottish highland areas which have had bans imposed.

Customers of Anglian, Northumbrian, Welsh, Thames and Wessex Water companies are unrestricted although they are being advised to use water wisely as the drought intensifies.

In some of the worst-hit areas, including the North-west and the South- west, reservoirs have fallen to 30 per cent of their usual capacities.

South West Water reported that its reservoirs had shrunk by between 40 per cent and 70 per cent. Even Kielder Water, northern Europe's biggest reservoir, has lost 13 per cent of its 44 billion gallon capacity.

However, the drought could be broken at the end of this week by storms which are heading for the south coast.

"There are some thunderstorms heading up through Spain and France which could produce some muggy weather and drop some rain but we can't be any more certain than that at the moment," said a London Weather Centre spokesman.