Yorkshire pours in cash to fight drought

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Environment Correspondent

Yorkshire Water yesterday doubled its efforts to bring water to the region's drought-hit cities by road. But the company also said recent rainfall meant there would now be no need for on-off rota cuts for some 600,000 people until January at the earliest.

Up to 600 road tankers will move millions of gallons a day, an operation unprecedented for a British water company. New slip roads, lorry parks and gantries carrying hoses have had to be installed.

''We're not out of the woods,'' said a spokesman. ''If people think we're crying wolf, they should come and look at the reservoirs.''

The emptiest of these are now 13 per cent full, slightly up on a week ago. But normally at this time of year they would be 80 per cent full, or 33 per cent in a bad year.

For the past 10 weeks a growing number of tankers have been taking water from Loftsome Bridge water treatment works, near Selby, more than 40 miles to Halifax and Huddersfield, the worst affected areas.

Yesterday two new tankering operations began. One will be bringing up to 25,000 tons of water a day from Long Newton reservoir, on Teesside, to reservoirs serving Leeds, using up to 300 tankers.

They will work 24 hours a day, making several of the 130-mile round trips. Much of the water they are bringing comes ultimately from Kielder Water, in Northumberland, the largest man-made reservoir in Europe, having first moved by pipeline, then the river Tees, then another pipeline to the reservoir.

The other operation is bringing water from the mains of York to Leeds, using 50 tankers. All the tankers have to be steam cleaned before they can carry water, and the total operation is costing the company about pounds 3m a week.

Yorkshire Water has brought in one of Britain's largest road freight firms, Exel Logistics, to run the entire operation from next Monday. But the owners of some small haulage firms whose tankers and drivers have been sub-contracted are warning that their pay and conditions will deteriorate sharply under the new regime.

''If this new system goes ahead it means I and many others drivers will pack up,'' said one company owner, who has hired 10 tankers and taken on drivers who were on the dole. He claimed the vehicles would have to be driven dangerously fast if they were to make any money from their contracts. Yorkshire Water said talks between sub-contractors and Exel Logistics were continuing and it would not compromise on road safety.

Last week the Government held a public inquiry into Yorkshire Water's request for an emergency drought order which would allow it to cut off households for 24 hours at a time.

The inquiry inspector's report will be with the Department of the Environment in the next few days. But John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, will not have to make a decision on whether to allow the cut offs until the time comes when Yorkshire Water says it needs to implement them.