Water warning: ‘Walking a tightrope’ Britain on brink of first hosepipe ban in 10 years

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Following a spike in demand following this week’s record-smashing heatwave, Southern Water said its river levels were dangerously low. It has asked the Environment Agency to issue a drought permit so it can continue to take water from the River Test in Hampshire. The river has seen flows plummet from 2,500 million litres a day in March to 500 million now.

The permit is expected to be granted, and will mean customers are banned from using hosepipes to offset the difference. The ban is expected to apply to 300,000 homes in Southampton and the Isle of Wight, affecting 700,000 people.

Those who break the ban face £1,000 fines. Other water firms are also predicted to need drought permits soon too.

The last hosepipe ban in 2012 was introduced by seven firms including Southern, Anglian, South East, and Thames Water. The Consumer Council for Water said water companies were “walking a tightrope” as they try to balance demand with trying to protect the environment.

It said: “With little rainfall on the horizon the pressure on our water supplies is likely to intensify.”

Meanwhile, Water UK urged Britons to “carefully consider” their water use following “unprecedented” demand.

Nick Price, Water Resources Strategy Manager at Southern Water said in a statement released by the water company: “With river flows dropping following a dry winter and spring, the risk is increasing that we will need to use a drought permit in order to continue supplying water. The less we take out of the River Test for water supply, the more we leave in it for wildlife and to support its precious habitats. We continue to ask customers to use water wisely.”

The Government-run Environment Agency (EA) said other rivers would be affected by a dry spring.

These include parts of the rivers Great Ouse and Old Bedford in Bedfordshire and West Cambridgeshire, parts of Essex, East Suffolk and the Broadland rivers area and in the Rivers Welland and Nene in Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire. The agency said on Tuesday that abstraction licence holders in the affected areas are likely to receive notice to restrict the amount of water they take as described in their licence conditions.

Helen Smith, a drought manager for the EA in East Anglia, said: “We continue to monitor our key river, groundwater and reservoir sites using telemetry, and are liaising with water companies to understand any emerging concerns. We are also working with farmers, businesses and other abstractors to manage water availability and ensure that they get the water they need to be resilient while maintaining our protection of the environment.”

Earlier this month, an EA spokesperson said the agency would “take action when necessary”, and encouraged people to “use water wisely”.

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