Water companies defend performance
Water companies have been forced to defend their performance as millions of customers were hit with hosepipe bans which look set to be in place all summer.
Seven water companies are introducing restrictions on water use following one of the driest two-year periods on record, with domestic customers facing a £1,000 fine if they use their hosepipe in defiance of the ban.
Thames Water, Southern Water, South East Water, Anglian Water, Sutton and East Surrey, Veolia Central and Veolia South East are bringing in the restrictions, affecting about 20 million people.
Customers will no longer be able to use their hosepipes for watering their gardens, washing cars or boats, hosing down patios and paths or filling swimming pools, ponds, fountains and paddling pools. Public parks in some areas will also be hit.
The firms insist the measures are necessary to preserve essential water supplies and protect the environment in the face of drought which has left groundwater below 1976 levels in some places and rivers running dry.
But the Environment Agency warned hosepipe bans are "not a silver bullet" and that it is not just down to households to save water. The Government agency has also urged companies to do their bit to reduce water use and called on water firms to do more to cut the amount of leaks from their networks.
The companies which have imposed hosepipe bans include two firms, Anglian and Southern, which failed to meet their targets for reducing water leakage - and still paid large bonuses to their top executives. Anglian Water paid out more than £1.1 million to its top executives in bonuses last year while Southern Water paid out more than £400,000.
Water companies have blamed the recent harsh winters, which led to freezing and bursting pipes across the country, for their failure to meet targets for water leakage, and insisted they were investing millions in tackling the problem.
Thames Water, which serves 8.8 million customers, met its leakage targets over the last six years, although its leakage rates account for around a quarter of the 2.6 billion litres it supplies a day to customers. The company paid its executive directors almost £2 million in bonuses in the last financial year, but spent more than £1 billion investing in infrastructure such as pipes and London's ageing sewage network.
Richard Aylard, external affairs and sustainability director at Thames Water, denied that the company could have done more to improve water supplies since 2006, the last time many parts of England were hit with hosepipe bans. He said the current predicament was "entirely to do with the weather", with the Thames region suffering the driest two-year period in records stretching back 125 years.
As a result of the ban, the fountains in Trafalgar Square, central London, are expected to dry up in almost a week. A Greater London Authority spokesman said: "We are working with Thames Water on finding a sustainable supply of water that will allow the Trafalgar Square fountains to be used throughout a summer of celebrations in the capital which include the 2012 (Olympic) Games, Diamond Jubilee and several other major events. As we explore alternative options the fountains are currently being used for one hour a day at a low plume using an existing store of water that is expected to last for about a week. This is to enable the water cleansing systems to work."