Water restrictions reach London as drought continues

The UK's biggest water company will join six others in imposing a ban on hosepipes, to come into force on 3 April, in response to the continuing drought in South-East England.

Eight million Thames Water customers will be banned from using hosepipes and sprinklers, the company said Monday. But it also acknowledged the need to do more to reduce leakage.

A third of London's pipes are more than 150 years old, while a third of the water supplied to the capital is lost through leakage.

Thames Water, which serves London and areas of the South-East, has not had to resort to banning hosepipes for 15 years. The company said more drastic measures such as water tankers may follow if the drought continues.

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. ..."

"By taking this step now, we will lessen the likelihood of more stringent restrictions later - but much still depends on how much rainfall we receive in the coming weeks."

"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."

Thames Water follows in the steps of six other companies - Sutton and East Surrey Water, South East Water, Southern Water, Mid Kent Water, and Cholderton and District Water - that all decided to ban hosepipes since the South-East's worst drought for 80 years began in November 2004 (see related story).

Water companies rely on winter rains to recharge groundwater sources, and are preparing for the worst after the last two winters proved second driest since records began in 1914.

Critics say that the hosepipe ban is not enough. Lib Dem shadow environment secretary Chris Huhne said:

"We accept the necessity of this hosepipe ban. However, it is not the long-term answer to the present drought. Thames Water must do more to reduce leakages."

"In addition, water metering must be introduced where water consumption is higher than average, if the UK's water shortages are to be overcome. If we do not take immediate steps to halt climate change droughts like this will become evermore commonplace."

Folkestone and Dover water company recently became the first to resort to compulsory water meters (see related story).

Thames Water says it is doing everything it can to cut water wastage, with plans for a water-saving publicity campaign as well as pipe repairs.

"We remain absolutely committed to reducing leakage as rapidly as possible, and are spending more than £500,000 per day on this essential task. That includes fixing an average of 200 leaks a day."

"In addition, we are planning joint advertising campaigns with other water companies and with the GLA."

"These will stress that water is an increasingly precious resource, not just in the current drought, but in the longer term, with growing evidence of climate change and many more people moving into our region."

The Environment Agency welcomed the ban. The EA's David Willis said: "Given the current status of our water resources, water companies must take action to reduce risks to water supply and the environment. Thames Water are acting responsibly by introducing a hosepipe ban at this time."

By Goska Romanowicz


| drought


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