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Millions face heatwave hosepipe ban

United Utilities announced a ban in the north west of England while firms elsewhere reported reservoir and groundwater levels were healthy.

Millions of people are facing a hosepipe ban in the north west of England as the heatwave continues to grip.

While United Utilities announced the “temporary use ban” which comes into force on Sunday August 5, other water companies said their reservoir levels were healthy and they had no plans to curb hosepipe use.

But with the hot, dry weather set to continue, people across the country are being urged to be “water wise” and limit their use of water by avoiding sprinklers, letting their lawns go brown and not washing the car.

United Utilities said its move comes after what is believed to be the longest heatwave since 1976, and will affect seven million customers in the north west of England, where the firm provides its services.

Unless we get a period of sustained rainfall before August 5, these restrictions will help us safeguard essential water supplies for longer United Utilities

The firm said before then customers can provide feedback if they believe they should be exempt.

The ban will apply to domestic customers who get their water supply from United Utilities, with the exception of customers in Carlisle and the north Eden Valley, where supplies remain at reasonable levels.

Martin Padley, United Utilities water services director, said: “Despite some recent rainfall, reservoir levels are still lower than we would expect at this time of year and, with forecasters predicting a return to hot dry weather for the rest of July, we are now at a point where we will need to impose some temporary restrictions on customers.

“It is not a decision we have taken lightly and we are enormously grateful to customers for having helped reduce the demand on our network over the last couple of weeks, but unless we get a period of sustained rainfall before August 5 these restrictions will help us safeguard essential water supplies for longer.”

The ban restricts the use of hosepipes or sprinklers for watering private gardens and washing private cars but customers will still be able to water their gardens with a watering can and wash their vehicles using a bucket and sponge, the firm said, which uses a fraction of the amount of water a hosepipe or sprinkler uses.

A hosepipe ban can reduce water usage by 5-10%, according to research by United Kingdom Water Industry Research, which in the North West would amount to over 100 million litres per day.

United Utilities said the ban was alongside the company’s efforts to maintain essential supplies, including maximising water abstraction from ground water supplies, moving water around its regional integrated network of pipes and running a campaign to encourage customers to use water wisely.

Carlisle district and the north-eastern corner of Eden district are exempt because they receive their water from discrete supply network zones fed by local water sources which have not been so badly affected by the overall lack of rainfall, the firm said.

June was an unusually hot and dry month, with the UK receiving less than half the average rainfall for the month, and England seeing just a quarter of the normal amount of rain.

But elsewhere in England and Wales, water companies said they had no plans for a hosepipe ban.

Severn Trent Water and South Staffs Water both said reservoirs were “healthy” and Anglian Water’s reservoir levels were where they should be or slightly above average.

An Affinity Water spokesman said: “The wet start to spring helped to ensure our groundwater sources were in a healthy position before the start of the summer and it is unlikely that restrictions will be needed this year.”

South West Water’s total reservoir storage was 78.4%, compared to 74.3% at the same time last year.

Northumbrian Water, Bristol Water and Thames Water all said they were not planning bans, while Wessex Water said there was “no prospect” of imposing the region’s first hosepipe ban since 1976.

But the company said it was still important for customers to do their bit to save water.

Welsh Water said its three million customers should use water wisely, even though it may soon start to rain, warning that after the long dry spell it would be difficult for rain to penetrate the ground and help restore reservoir levels.

Paul Hickey, head of water resources at the Environment Agency, said: “Over two very dry months, we have seen a rapid decline in reservoir levels in the North West and we support the announcement by United Utilities to manage water supplies by introducing household restrictions.

“Across the rest of England, most groundwater supplies are at healthy levels and water companies have enough water to maintain supplies if resources are managed properly.

“Many rivers around the country have dropped to lower levels than normal for this time of year, which can be damaging to wildlife.

“We have robust plans in place to respond to these pressures and have stepped up our incident response as well as regulation of those abstracting water to ensure the environment is protected.”

Rachel Fletcher, Ofwat chief executive, said: “United Utilities’ proposed hosepipe ban is not a move the company has taken lightly and has come about after spending weeks managing the specific situation in their area.

“They must now do all they can to explain to customers what is happening and get the right support in place, especially for those who might be vulnerable.

“We are working closely with government and the Environment Agency to monitor how all companies are managing their response to the hot, dry weather.

“We expect all companies to be well prepared to serve their customers whatever the weather.”

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