Water companies' standpipe warningThousands of homes could be without water

20 March 2006

Water supplies to thousands of homes across the south-east of England could be switched off this summer if the drought worsens and usage continues at the current rate.

That's the stark warning from eight of the region's water companies. The South-East is currently experiencing its driest period since 1933 and the Environment Agency says the region is facing a drought. Hosepipe and sprinkler bans are already in place in some areas, and many reservoirs and rivers are seriously depleted.

The water companies say that standpipes or water tanks are a last resort in a serious drought and much will depend on how much rain falls in the next couple of months, how much water people use and how hot and dry it is this summer.

But they say that standpipes or water tanks aren't inevitable and that everyone who uses water plays a part in conserving supplies. They've launched a Beat the Drought website which advises people on water-saving measures, such as taking showers instead of baths.

Thames Water's leakage

Other measures suggested on the site include repairing leaking taps. But some water companies have been criticised for their own record on leakage, and customers are likely to feel the companies should look to their own water conservation before telling customers to save water.

The Consumer Council for Water (CCW) says it's concerned about the amount Thames Water loses through leaking pipes: 241 million gallons per day. Thames - Britain's biggest water company - has missed several leakage targets set by the regulator, Ofwat, over recent years.

Last week Thames announced it was banning customers from using hosepipes and sprinklers, while earlier this month Folkestone and Dover Water became the first water company in England to get the power to force customers to have a water meter, in a bid to conserve supplies.

Hosepipe bans

Paul Kent, Regulatory Manager for Southern Water, said his company had introduced hosepipe bans in Kent and Sussex last summer, and would now be moving to a non-essential use ban.

'The non-essential use ban will prevent the washing of public buildings, it will prevent the watering of parks and sports grounds and the like, and will save water in that way,'' he told BBC Radio's Today programme this morning.

'We are not entering into this lightly. We are in the driest period we have had for 70-80 years and we need to conserve the water so that it is sufficient for basic hygiene throughout the rest of the year.'