Britain’s largest water company is to ban customers from using hosepipes and sprinklers amid growing fears that South-East England will be hit by a serious drought.
Around 8 million people in the Thames Water area, which includes Greater London and stretches from Kent to Gloucestershire, will be affected when the restrictions come into force next month.
The move follows a prolonged period of below-average rainfall in the South-East, resulting in the worst shortages in a century. Since November 2004, the Thames Water region has had only 68 per cent of its expected rain. And if problems continue, the restrictions may get tighter.
The South-East has been hit harder by the drought than the rest of Britain because of its high population density and relatively low number of reservoirs. Other water companies have already introduced hosepipe bans, and 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.
‘Poor record with leakage’
The water consumers’ representative, the Consumer Council for Water (CCW), supported the ban, but suggested that Thames Water could do more to curb leakage from its own pipes. The water company has failed to meet leakage targets set by regulator Ofwat.
Andrew Marsh, of the CCW, said: ‘Consumers will support the ban, but the problem with Thames Water is that they have a pretty poor record with leakage. There’s a big perceptual problem there when down the road there may be a pipe leaking water.’
He added that imposing hosepipe bans now to prevent more serious problems in the summer was a ‘sensible precaution’.
Thames says situation is serious
Jeremy Pelczer, Chief Executive of Thames Water, said: ‘We are reluctant to restrict the amount of water our customers use, but the situation is serious. The drought across the South-East has now gone on for so long that we have to be prudent and introduce measures that will make best use of limited supplies and help protect the environment.
‘If we see little rain, coupled with high demand, then we may have to go further and restrict a wider range of non-essential uses of water.’
Under the bans, customers must not use a sprinkler or a hose for washing their car or watering their garden. Those who ignore such bans are usually warned, but face a fine of up to GBP 1,000 if they continue to flout the restrictions.
Other water companies in the South-East already have hosepipe bans in some areas. They are Southern Water (in its Sussex North, Sussex Coast, Sussex Hasting, Kent Thanet and Kent Medway water supply areas), South East Water (Sussex supply areas only), Mid Kent (whole water supply area) and Cholderton and District Water, near Salisbury.
The government granted Folkestone and Dover Water ‘water scarcity’ status earlier this month – giving it the power to make meters compulsory – to allow it to conserve dwindling supplies. Experts said that other companies may follow suit.
From April, Thames Water customers face an extra GBP 12 on their water bills under rises announced last month by Ofwat.