Drought over in most of South East England

The South East's two-year drought is over across most of the region following heavy winter rainfall, according to four companies which lifted long-standing hosepipe bans this week.

Householders can again use hosepipes in the Thames Water, Three Valleys Water, Southern Water and Sutton and East Surrey Water supplies areas – if they wish to do so given the recent downpours, which finally ended the worst drought since the 1920s (see related story).

Hosepipe bans remain in two supply areas despite the wet weather water, Mid Kent Water and South East Water have kept hosepipe bans in place and are to review them at the end of the month.

Although rainfall does not vary greatly across South East England the way it affects water resources does – the process is longer in heavily ground source-dependent regions such as in the South East Water supply area, where three quarters of water resources come from groundwater.

“The range of water sources – rivers, reservoirs and underground aquifers – can vary from company to company, just as the amount of water available in each of these sources can too,” South East Water said.

“It is for the same reason that hosepipe bans were imposed at different times by water companies, so it would be unusual if we all fully recovered from this serious drought at exactly the same time.

Thames Water, which lifted a hosepipe ban in place since last April (see related story), said:

“The decision [to lift the ban], which has been taken in consultation with the Environment Agency, follows four months of above-average rainfall (September to December), which have eased immediate concerns about water resources following the record drought that began in November 2004.

“The good news is that the recent wet weather has allowed us to fill our reservoirs. It has taken some time for the rain to seep down into underground aquifers that keep rivers and reservoirs topped up during the spring and the summer, but groundwater levels throughout the catchment are also rising and are expected to have generally recovered to at least near-normal levels by February,” the company said.

In areas where water restrictions remain the situation will not be resolved until Fabruary or March, said Environment Minister Ian Pearson.

“The south east relies on groundwater reserves for up to 85% of its supply, and the groundwater position is by no means as clear at the moment. It changes far more slowly, and we will only know by the end of February or beginning of March whether recharge over the winter months has been enough to protect against the risk of the drought extending into next summer,” he said.

Goska Romanowicz

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