'Dry winters' lead to hosepipe ban
Millions of households will have hosepipe bans by Easter, water firms have announced as the Environment Agency warned of "severe drought" in the coming months.
Seven water companies across southern and eastern England are bringing in hosepipe bans from April 5, following two unusually dry winters which have left reservoirs, aquifers and rivers well below normal levels.
The move comes as the Environment Agency said the drought, which has already gripped the South East and East Anglia, could spread as far north as East Yorkshire and as far west as the Hampshire-Wiltshire border if the dry weather continues.
And with sufficient rain to boost low groundwater and river levels unlikely in the coming weeks, a report from the agency said it was "anticipating a severe drought in spring and summer 2012".
Southern Water, South East Water, Thames Water, Anglian Water, Sutton and East Surrey, Veolia Central and Veolia South East will all have restrictions on water use in place before the Easter bank holiday.
Last month the water companies warned that hosepipe bans were on the cards, as the Environment Department (Defra) declared the South East had joined most of East Anglia in a state of drought. Shortly afterwards, the rest of the Anglian region went into drought.
The Environment Agency said rain in March had been welcome but not enough to reverse the impacts of two consecutive dry winters for the affected regions. It said it was concerned about the situation at Bewl and Darwell reservoirs in Kent, Ardingly in Sussex, Pitsford reservoir in Northamptonshire and Rutland Water.
And the lack of rain had left river and groundwater levels extremely low across southern and eastern England from the Dorset coast to Grimsby - with areas to the west and south-east Yorkshire also at risk of drought.
Industry body Water UK said all seven companies were set to bring in hosepipe bans and would be consulting on who, if anyone, should be exempt from the restrictions - for example vulnerable customers and businesses. Around 20 million people could be affected by the restrictions.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said: "These temporary restrictions will help protect the public's water supply in the areas most affected by the record low levels of rainfall we have experienced over the last 17 months. We can all help reduce the effects of drought by respecting these restrictions and being smarter about how we use water."