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Moves to refill Kent reservoir

A water company has said it taking steps to secure water supplies for customers following the driest ten months since 1888.

Bewl Water reservoir, in Lamberhurst, Kent, which serves Kent and parts of East Sussex, is only 41% full - well below the long-term average of 88%.

Southern Water is taking action to help refill the reservoir over the winter by applying to the Environment Agency for a drought permit.

If granted, the permit would allow Southern Water to change the terms of its abstraction licence for the River Medway, to take more water from the river - under certain conditions - to put into Bewl, a company spokeswoman said.

This would ease the pressure on the reservoir, which supplies the Medway towns, Thanet and Hastings areas, and reduce the risk of water restrictions being put in place this summer.

A similar permit was granted in 2005 and 2006 when the reservoir was at about the same level, the spokeswoman added. She said the company continued to manage its resources carefully with a leak reduction programme and the installation of more than 130,000 water meters, of which 500,000 will be fitted with leak alarms.

Water Strategy Manager Meyrick Gough said: "This is a precautionary measure which we hope will reduce the chances of us having to restrict customers' water use through the summer. We have applied for this permit now because taking water in winter is less likely to have any impact on the environment."

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) raised concerns over the lack of investment in new sources of supply on a scale sufficient to meet the anticipated increase in demand arising from climate change and population growth in the South East.

Kent has been officially classified by the Government as "water scarce", according to environmental campaign group Protect Kent.

A spokesman for the group said: "We now see the effect of this short-term thinking in the threatened failure of Bewl Water, which has a rated output lower than when first commissioned more than 40 years ago. With the addition of supply areas in Ashford and Hastings it is expected to serve a significantly larger population, making it even more vulnerable to drought events."

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