Hosepipe ban 'could be over before autumn'
The UK's biggest water company has said it could lift its
hosepipe ban sooner than expected after wet weather reduced the risk of
Thames Water, which serves 8.8 million customers in London and the Thames Valley area, said unless the weather takes "an unexpectedly Saharan twist", it no longer expected to keep the ban in place through to the autumn.
Anglian Water and Southern Water are thought to be in a similar position after the heavy rain the UK received in April and May boosted river levels and reservoir stocks.
Seven water companies across southern and eastern England brought in hosepipe bans to combat drought, after two unusually dry winters left some groundwater supplies and rivers as low as in the drought year of 1976.
But the restrictions introduced early in April were followed by record rainfall across the UK for that month, and more rain in May.
The latest drought briefing from the Environment Agency said the wet weather had significantly reduced the risk of drought and widespread water restrictions this summer.
River levels and reservoir stocks have improved significantly and further water restrictions for the public and businesses are unlikely, the government agency said.
Richard Aylard, sustainability director for Thames Water, said: "The record spring rainfall has eased the situation considerably.
"The River Thames provides 70% of the water we supply to our customers and levels are now where we would expect them to be at this time of the year, and our reservoirs are still full.
"In addition we have had excellent cooperation from our customers, both in observing the restrictions and in using water wisely, and we are currently beating our leakage target by more than 60 million litres a day."
He said water levels in underground aquifers were still very low, and the company needed to wait a little longer to be sure it had enough water to get through summer and autumn without restrictions.
He pledged Thames Water would not keep restrictions in place for any longer than was necessary and said customers would be updated on the situation towards the end of June.
"But unless the topsy-turvy British weather delivers an unexpectedly Saharan twist, we no longer expect to need to keep the ban in place right through to the autumn," he said.
While the rain has improved the situation, a third dry winter could see conditions "deteriorate" again and lead to the possibility of more water restrictions next year, the Environment Agency said.
In addition, groundwater levels are still well below normal in some areas, with some as low as in the drought year of 1976, and are unlikely to improve before the winter.
Some areas need as much as 140% of long-term average rainfall this winter to fully recover.
Trevor Bishop, head of water resources at the Environment Agency, said: "We have seen a huge improvement in water resources in just a few short months, putting us in a much more positive position for the summer.
"While the downpours in April were pretty miserable, they were really welcome as water companies were able to refill their reservoirs, river levels are mostly back to normal, and many wildlife habitats that were suffering have recovered.
"But while the risk of drought with further water restrictions and associated environmental impacts this summer has reduced, the situation could deteriorate again next year if there is not enough rain this winter.
"We are still working with partners, planning for the impacts that a third dry winter could have on next year's water supplies."
Farmers are unlikely to be hit by restrictions on spray irrigation this summer, the Environment Agency said.
But some streams and wetlands could dry up as groundwater levels are reduced by water use over the summer.
Hosepipe bans remain in place for customers of Anglian Water, South East Water, parts of Southern Water, Sutton and East Surrey Water, Thames Water, Veolia Central and Veolia South East.
While Thames Water, Anglian Water and Southern Water could be lifting their bans sooner than expected, other companies which take most of their water from underground are likely to have to keep bans in place for longer as groundwater levels remain low.
South East Water, Sutton and East Surrey Water, Veolia Water Central and Veolia Water Southeast have confirmed their hosepipe bans remain in place.
The companies say their supplies are heavily dependent on ground water resources, which remain significantly or even severely depleted.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said: "Whilst I'm sure the recent rain was a challenge for some of the public events like the Jubilee, it was most welcome to farmers, gardeners and the water companies who are looking into whether they can lift the restrictions at the end of June.
"The Environment Agency continues to keep the drought under constant review so that no area has restrictions placed upon them if they are not necessary.
"People should use water wisely - we must start to recognise it as the precious resource it is."
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