Water companies lift hosepipe bans


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The Independent Online

Three of the UK's biggest water companies are lifting hosepipe bans, imposed to deal with drought, following weeks of heavy rain.

Thames Water, Anglian Water and Southern Water will remove the restrictions in place since early April from midnight tonight.

Seven water companies across southern and eastern England brought in hosepipe bans after two unusually dry winters left some groundwater supplies and rivers as low as in the drought year of 1976.

But the restrictions were followed by record rainfall across the UK in April and more rain in May and the beginning of June, leading to flooding in some areas.

Richard Aylard, sustainability director for Thames Water, said: "While we prepared for worst, bringing in restrictions to save water to ensure there would be enough if the dry spell continued, the topsy-turvy British weather had other ideas.

"Since we imposed the temporary use ban just over two months ago, we have received an extraordinary amount of rain.

"We are really pleased we can now lift the ban but, with groundwater levels still low and the possibility of a third successive dry winter, we still need to be careful. We don't need a ban, but we do need to ask everyone to keep on using water wisely."

Paul Valleley, Anglian Water's director of water services, said: "There's no way we could have predicted it, but in some places we had three times the average rainfall in April.

"Crucially, it fell just within the traditional 'recharge' season - the time of the year when there is less competition for water from the environment, and much of what falls ends up in reservoirs and aquifers.

"Effectively, we had three months-worth of 'winter rain' in April. This was followed by a wet and cool May and June.

"The persistent rain and low temperatures have extended the recharge season into the early summer, and this has made all the difference."

Southern Water's water quality and strategy manager Meyrick Gough said: "While our focus remains firmly on dealing with the aftermath of the torrential rain and flooding in the south over the last few days, it is also right for us to lift the water restrictions."

In its latest drought briefing last week, 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.

But 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.

Companies which rely primarily on underground aquifers for supplies are maintaining their hosepipe bans.

Mike Pocock, water resources manager of Veolia Water Central, said: "Months of wet weather, particularly during the next autumn and winter period, will be needed to restore groundwater to normal levels.

"The current temporary use ban, which includes hosepipe usage, has been assisting to reduce demand and conserve our water resources and we would like to thank our customers for their incredible support.

"Unfortunately, at present we will not be relaxing the temporary use ban further, as we need to conserve our supply of water to prepare for the possibility of a third dry autumn and winter."

South East Water, which relies on groundwater for 75% of its supplies, said it was not in a position to remove its hosepipe ban.

Paul Seeley, asset director at South East Water, said: "We hope our customers understand why we are taking the action we are - these depleted reserves still need to see us through the summer, if it ever arrives, while we must also plan for the possibility of a third dry winter."

Following the announcement that some companies were lifting restrictions, shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said: "Customers who have seen their bills rise on average by 6% will be pleased that water companies are lifting the hosepipe ban.

"But this drought has shone a light on how this out-of-touch Government is delaying on action to protect our water supply.

"They should set water companies tougher targets to fix leaks, insist they provide help to keep bills affordable and stop the over-abstraction of our rivers and groundwater."