Millions in north-west face hosepipe ban

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Millions of householders will face a hosepipe ban from Friday, a utility company confirmed today.

United Utilities, which supplies water to north-west England, said the measure will help "safeguard essential supplies".

Water levels in many reservoirs and lakes have plummeted to less than half their capacity due to the region's driest start to the year since 1929.

Despite spells of rain over recent weeks, supply levels have failed to sufficiently increase and today the company announced the "temporary" ban will come into force from 6am on Friday.

Anybody caught flouting the ban may face a fine of up to £1,000.

John Sanders, Water Regulation and Strategy Manager for United Utilities, said: "Despite some recent rainfall in the north of the region, reservoir levels are still significantly lower than we would expect at this time of year and are now at a point where we need to impose some temporary restrictions on our customers.

"It is not a decision we have taken lightly, but a hosepipe can use as much water in an hour as a family of four would use in one day.

"This ban will help us to safeguard essential water supplies to our customers if the drought continues."

The ban will restrict the use of hosepipes or sprinklers for watering private gardens and washing private cars.

Customers have been told they can still water their gardens with a watering can and wash their vehicles using a bucket and sponge.

United Utilities said these methods typically use a fraction of the amount of water a hosepipe or sprinkler uses.

The company issued warnings about the possibility of restrictions last month when it applied to the Environment Agency (EA) for a drought permit.

The permit allows them to take more water from Ennerdale reservoir, Cumbria.

Although the permit was granted, it has been placed on hold as recent rain means Ennerdale is one area where supplies remain at reasonable levels.

As a result, householders in Carlisle, Allerdale, Copeland and the north Eden Valley, all in Cumbria, will not be included in the ban, the firm said.

New drought permit applications will seek permission to allow United Utilities to release less water into rivers from reservoirs in Rivington, Lancashire, and Longdendale, Derbyshire.

There will also be an application to take additional water out of Windermere, Cumbria.

This is the first hosepipe ban in the north-west for 14 years.

The Consumer Council for Water said it expected United Utilities to still "deliver a high quality customer service" and to be "particularly active on leakage".

The group also promised to monitor United Utilities closely.

Andrea Cook, chairwoman of the Consumer Council for Water's northern committee, said: "Consumers are concerned about their water environment and accept the need to conserve water.

"Indeed, four out of five consumers (80%) tell us that they are prepared to accept restrictions such as hosepipe bans, as long as water companies can demonstrate that they have done all they can to effectively manage water supplies.

"We have seen significant advances in companies meeting leakage targets and maintaining a good quality and consistent supply, but we expect companies to be particularly active on leakage at times of drought.

"When we ask water customers, most accept that there are times when restrictions on non-essential use are necessary, but want clear rules in place so they know what they can and can't do.

"We accept that this is an issue which can create strong feelings with some consumers.

"We will be monitoring United Utilities closely to ensure that their consumers are being well-served and given as much information as possible during and after the hosepipe ban."

A spokesman for Ofwat, the water services regulation authority, said: "We face significant challenges in the future.

"Climate change and population growth mean that our water supplies are likely to become more stretched. Getting the balance right will be an ongoing battle, requiring long-term solutions.

"We need to value this precious resource appropriately to keep the taps running in the future. And ensure customers continue to get a fair deal."

Ofwat said by 2014/15, water companies will have saved 281 million litres a day by promoting water efficiency, reducing leakage and through their planned meter installation programmes.

That is more than 2% of all the water they deliver to customers, or enough to fill Wembley stadium more than 85 times a year.