England imposes first drought order in a decade

The worsening drought in the South East has led to England's first drought order in more than a decade, giving Sutton and East Surrey Water the power to ban all non-essential water use.

The company has said it will implement most of the restrictions that the order puts at its disposal, essentially banning all domestic and commercial use of hosepipes and sprinklers, from May 27.

The Environment Agency has warned that the drought order may be the first of many. “Drought orders to ban non-essential use of water are being considered” – the EA’s Dr David King said, commenting on the Drought Prospects Report – Spring Update released by the Agency on Monday.

Environment minister Ian Pearson justified the drought order by the urgent need to save water with already low groundwater levels dropping further before the onset of the dry summer months.

“The key to minimising the impact of drought is to act before the situation becomes extreme and we cannot afford to be complacent. The Environment Agency has not changed its view – that we face potentially the worst drought for a hundred years,” said Mr Pearson.

New restrictions will extend the hosepipe ban already in place in the Sutton and East Surrey area to most other uses of hosepipes and sprinklers, including the watering of golf courses, parks and filling private swimming pools. The new rules will apply from May 27, Sutton and East Surrey Water said. Exact details of the restrictions can be found at the Sutton & East Surrey Water website.

Mike Hogarty, Sutton and East Surrey Water’s Operations Director, said that the company will be making use of all but a few of the restrictions the drought order puts in its disposition. “A small number of permitted restrictions will not be introduced at this stage as they do not represent significant uses of water. Whether or not restrictions are extended to these uses will depend on the reduction in demand for water during the coming weeks as we move into the summer high demand period,” he said.

April rainfall in the area was 18% below the long-term average, the company said. Although several days of heavy rainfall temporarily boosted river and reservoir levels last week, reports that this has lessened the risk of drought are misguided, according to Defra:

“The drought in the south-east remains serious. There have been misleading and unhelpful reports suggesting that recent rainfall has somehow solved the problem. It hasn’t,” said Ian Pearson.

The temporary rise in surface water levels is misleading as most of the problem remains underground, he explained. South-east England gets 70% of its total supply from groundwater, while in Sutton and East Surrey this rises to 85%.

The Chartered Institute of Water Engineering and Management also said rising reservoirs levels were deceptive, as water companies had been allowed to divert river water to keep levels high – a practice which could not be sustained without rainfall boosting river flows and underground aquifers.

Dr Colin Fenn, chair of CIWEM’s Water Resources Panel, said: “Despite the quite marked regional variations in the intensity of the current drought, we should all redouble our efforts to use water wisely and carefully, in the home as well outside of it.

“Droughts remind us that water is a resource we can’t afford to take for granted, or attach too small a value to – whether or not we pay for it by the amount we take. The more we take, the less that’s left in the environment – and in times of scarcity, that balance can be a delicate one.”

CIWEM also pointed out that droughts may get worse in the future as global temperatures rise.

Further information for consumers on reducing water wastage is available at www.beatthedrought.com.

Goska Romanowicz

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