Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland on brink of water crisis as heatwave set to continue

No sign of drought ending as forecasters predict little rain for the next two weeks

By Mark Bain

The drought bringing challenges to Northern Ireland may continue for at least another fortnight, a forecaster has warned.

The Met Office's John Wylie said little or no rain was expected between now and the end of next week. It comes as officials warned of unprecedented demand on Northern Ireland's water supply because of the heatwave.

The region has baked in record temperatures for days - but the hot, dry conditions are starting to have an impact on everyday life. A hosepipe ban was put in place on Friday - the first since 1995 - and will continue for the foreseeable future. Anyone caught breaching it could face a fine of up to £1,000.

Last night NI Water - the company in charge of our water supply - urged people to come forward and report breaches.

As the summer heatwave continued:

• The Met Office said last month was the hottest June on record for Northern Ireland;

• NI Water revealed water usage was still running at 25% higher than normal;

• Anger erupted after photographs emerged of council officials hosing plants;

• It emerged that NI Water loses more than 160m litres every day through leaks, and

• Sports clubs and flower producers told how the dry spell was impacting on them.

Yesterday the Met Office revealed provisional figures showing the UK as a whole had its warmest June since 1940, and equal with 1976.

The warm weather here shows little sign of giving way in early July. Mr Wylie told the Belfast Telegraph: "There's not much rain in sight for the rest of this week and next week.

"We could have a slightly less warm spell on Thursday and Friday, but next weekend is shaping up to be more of the same warm, sunny and dry weather. The general advice for this week and next is stock up on the sunscreen because you'll need it."

While there may not be a return to the near record-breaking 30.5C set last Thursday, the average temperature this week is forecast to be 25C - still seven degrees above what is normal for early July.

Amid mounting pressure on the system, NI Water said it was facing unprecedented demand.

The company's CEO Sara Venning said: "We believe we are seeing a slowly improving picture. However, demand is still 25% higher than normal.

"NI Water is monitoring the situation continuously. We do not want the ban to continue any longer than is necessary. However, the ban will not be lifted until we are confident there is enough treated water to meet the required water demands.

"Demand remains high, particularly during peak times, so we are still urging people to conserve water."

Ms Venning revealed NI Water has dealt with 18 incidents of fire hydrant abuse since Friday - in Belfast, Newcastle, Draperstown and Magherafelt.

She added: "Some may see it as harmless fun by kids, but the reality is, as they play in the water, homes and businesses are suffering low water pressure or no water at all."

NI Water said anyone found flouting the hosepipe ban could face a fine of up to £1,000. Encouraging people to report abuse, it has already received tip-offs via phone and social media.

A spokesperson said: "The majority of queries we have received on social media, particularly Facebook, are around advice and clarification on what is covered by the ban. But NI Water is receiving reports of hosepipe breaches through our Waterline number and social media channels.

"Any reports of hosepipe ban breaches must be directed through the Waterline number on 03457 440088 or email waterline@niwater.com"

Ms Venning added: "Our engineers are saying the demand is like nothing they've experienced before. The treatment works are now at full capacity, we're working 24 hours a day."

NI Water's annual strategic report for 2016/17 revealed 163.44m litres per day are lost through burst pipes and leaks.

Ms Venning said: "Any bursts that are reported to us are being dealt with as an absolute priority. We have a 'crack commando' squad who, as soon as they get the call, they're out there."

Meanwhile, Belfast City Council employees were seen cleaning the pavement outside City Hall yesterday. A spokesperson said it had to balance the need to conserve water with essential maintenance. It added: "Where an area is assessed and needs cleansed a decision will be made, balancing the operational need with the need to be mindful of conserving water."

Castlereagh and Lisburn City Council responded to criticism of plant watering: "While the council, as a business organisation, is exempt from this ban, it is acutely aware of its civic role to lead by example where possible. With this very much in mind, council staff have rationalised the watering of all plants and flowers.

"Where possible, the council is also using its own natural water supplies from a number of wells and ponds on council property."

Belfast Telegraph

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