Thames switches on droughtbuster as supplies dwindle

Thames Water has opened emergency aquifers in north London to avoid imposing punitive measures such as hosepipe bans after the driest winter since 1976.

Around 100 million litres of water a day will be drawn from the ‘North London Artificial Recharge Scheme’ at first, although the company says that could double as more of the 41 boreholes that pump water from the aquifer are put into use.

There have been no restrictions on water use in Thames Water’s region for 15 years, but this time the company cannot rule it out.

“The need to switch on the pumps shows just how dry it has been,” said Dr Dave Cook. Thames Water’s Water Resources Manager. “We’re now into the eighth consecutive month of below-average rainfall, which has left some rivers and boreholes we rely on for supplies well below their normal levels.”

Dr Cook echoed Mayor Livingstone’s advice from last week (see related story), saying all customers should use water wisely over the dry period as the company tries to pump the extra water into the system.

Thames is not the only company facing difficulties. Southern Water has already imposed hosepipe bans in the North Sussex area (see related story), and is now extending the ban to the Sussex coast, Kent Medway, Kent Thanet and Hastings supply areas.

One of Southern’s reservoirs, the Weir Wood Reservoir near East Grinstead, relies entirely on rainfall and is currently half-empty at a time when it should be almost full. Unlike other reservoirs this cannot be topped up by pumping extra water from rivers.

Southern has also asked for a drought order to be imposed. If this gets the go-ahead the company will restrict the amount of water it releases from the Weir Wood reservoir into the River Medway, to keep drinking supplies high.

However, the Environment Agency has said this would be unacceptable as the lower river levels would be bad for wildlife.

Also in the south east, Folkestone and Dover Water Company has become the first water company to apply to Defra for a water scarcity order. If this is granted it will introduce compulsory metering to manage demand and may have to build reservoirs to keep up with increased usage.

The dire situation in the South East has led consumer body WaterVoice to call for action to secure long-term water supplies for the region.

Richard Sturt, Chairman of WaterVoice Southern said that while short-term restriction is understandable, long-term action was called for.

“It is absolutely vital that these warning signs are taken seriously and that the reality of climate change is taken into account, not just in planning future resources, but also in improving connectivity between supply zones.”

He added that there were serious concerns about long-term implications of water demand and the impact this will have on resources.

“This is a clear warning signal to the water companies that increasing resources is an absolute must and should proceed at all possible speed. Enough water falls, even in a dry year, for the needs of the population but active steps need to be taken to collect and store the water when it falls. Dry years will be more frequent in the future and action must be taken now.”

By David Hopkins

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie