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Hose pipe ban announced for 20 million households

by Rose Crompton

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Bewl water resevior December 2011 - 40% full, credit: Southern Water

Hosepipe bans affecting more than 20 million households are to be imposed from April 5th, to combat the effects of the worsening drought in southern and eastern England.

Seven water companies: Anglian Water, Southern Water, Thames Water, South East Water, Sutton and East Surrey Water, Veolia Water Central and Veolia Water Southeast have been forced to introduce the restrictions to deal with water shortages after months of unusually dry weather.

Peter Simpson, Managing Director of Anglian Water, said, “This is the first time Anglian Water has imposed a hosepipe ban in more than 20 years, but we believe this is the most sensible and responsible action to take to help safeguard customer supplies for this year, next year and beyond.

“Our region has had its driest 18 months for a century, including two dry winters which have robbed us of the rainfall we need to refill rivers, reservoirs and aquifers,” he said.

The water companies have suggested that the restrictions could last throughout the spring, summer and autumn.

Defra, the environment department, officially announced that the South East had joined the Anglian region in a state of drought last month. The Environment Agency’s Drought Prospects Report, published yesterday, revealed that the rain over the last few weeks had not been enough to reverse the impact of two consecutive dry winters on river flows and groundwater levels. “As plants start to grow and it becomes warmer, soils will dry out further” the report stated. It added: “We are therefore anticipating a severe drought in spring and summer 2012.”

The hosepipe ban will cover gardening, recreational uses (such as filling swimming or paddling pools) and cleaning and anyone breaching the ban could face prosecution. Full details of penalties are expected to be released tomorrow.

Gardeners have been advised to use watering cans, filled directly from a tap or from a water butt, to irrigate lawns and plants. It is also permissible to use a drip or trickle irrigation watering system fitted with a pressure-reducing valve and a timer.

Martin Baggs, Chief Executive of Thames Water, said, “We know these restrictions will be unpopular, but they will save a lot of water. A garden sprinkler uses as much water in an hour as a family of four uses in a day, and when water is in short supply the needs of families must come first.”

Gardeners have already been taking early action to combat the drought. Homebase, the home improvement chain, has seen a 34 percent increase in water butt sales in the last few weeks. Meanwhile, water butt manufacturer Blackwall has seen orders double week on week and expects this trend to continue throughout the summer.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has issued a leaflet with advice on maintaining gardens through a drought, after a number of members contacted them with concerns.

“We have had quite a few queries from RHS members asking about water butts – where to buy them and how to set them up; the use of grey water; drought-resistant plants and what to water orchids and ericaceous plants with when the water butt runs dry,” says Guy Barter, RHS Chief Horticultural Advisor. “But there is a lot gardeners can do that does not involve extra watering. For example, spiking and feeding a lawn in spring will help it hold up in dry weather – then if it goes brown, it will recover even faster when rain returns. It’s also a good idea to plant hardy plants early to avoid the hot weather and let them get their roots into the surrounding soil to search out moisture.” More information is available here.

David Lewis, Head Gardener at Kensington Roof Gardens suggests picking plants wisely. “When choosing the planting for pots or bedding displays this year, look for varieties that are more drought-tolerant – pelargoniums rather than busy lizzies for instance.”

If rainfall does not significantly increase over the next few months in the south and east, further restrictions are likely. Paul Butler, Managing Director of South East Water, said, “If the situation does not significantly improve, then we may have to remove any initial concessions, and introduce wider restrictions, to protect both customers’ water supplies and the environment from which we take that water.” This could mean restrictions on the watering of public parks or sports grounds.

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