Defra grants three more drought orders

The Government has granted three more drought orders in Southern England, allowing water companies to bring in emergency water saving measures across Kent and Sussex.

One of the orders allows Mid Kent Water to ban all non-essential water use across its supply area, and two more give Southern Water the same powers across parts of Sussex. The companies join Sutton and East Surrey Water, which was last week granted England’s first drought order in 11 years (see related story).

But following recent rainfall the two companies have decided to delay enforcing the hosepipe and sprinkler bans now at their disposition.

Southern Water’s chief executive Les Dawson said: “The situation is still serious, with some underground water sources running at near record low levels. Therefore, the restrictions might have to be introduced later this year and it is important that we have today received the authority from DEFRA. However, I am pleased to say the recent wet weather allows us not to implement the orders immediately.”

The companies applied for drought orders on March 20, following the driest period since the 1930s. No other companies have submitted drought orders to date, Defra said on Thursday.

But several days of recent rainfall cannot be relied on to recharge groundwater levels depleted over the winter, Defra said. Consequently, companies granted drought orders are expecting to enforce at least some of the restrictions at their disposal.

Authorising the orders, environment minister Ian Pearson said: “Recent rainfall has not reduced the need for restrictions in the south east.

Reservoirs are nearly full but the region relies on groundwater for 70% of its supply, and in the case of Mid Kent Water it’s 85%. The winter recharge season is over, yet groundwater levels remain critically low, and the Environment Agency has advised that the rain we are seeing now will have little impact on these levels.

“The Government’s priority is the protection of consumers and of the environment during this exceptional drought. By reducing non-essential uses, essential supplies to communities can be better maintained should the drought continue. Taking action now is the responsible thing to do,” he said.

Hosepipe bans remain in place in the supply areas of four other companies – Thames Water, Three Valleys Water, South East Water and Folkstone and Dover Water. Sutton and East Surrey water’s hosepipe ban will come into force on Saturday.

Goska Romanowicz

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