Will there be a hosepipe ban in London? Scientists warn of 'zero rain' for next fortnight

Some 17million more Britons could be hit by further hosepipe and sprinkler bans in the coming weeks, amid an alert that ‘zero or no meaningful’ rain is predicted for large parts of the country over the next fortnight.

South East Water has announced a ban from Friday next week, affecting 2.2million customers in Kent and Sussex – while a Southern Water ban for nearly one million people in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight starts tomorrow.

Now, 17million more people in other parts of England could soon be hit by further bans after Thames Water and South West Water both warned they might soon have to bring in restrictions – which would affect 15million customers in London and the Thames Valley, and around two million in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset. 

This would mean a total of 20million people could be affected by water-use restrictions in England. As it stands, the number of people under a ban from next Friday will stand at around 3.3million – also including the Isle of Man.

Thames Water’s last hosepipe ban was in 2012 – and the company said that unless rain falls soon, which forecasters say is not likely, then ‘the next stage of the plan would be to introduce a temporary use ban which is likely to include hosepipes’. It added: ‘The timing will depend on the amount of water used by our customers.’

South West Water, which last imposed a ban in 1996, said: ‘If the exceptional levels of demand and sustained dry weather continues we may have to make the difficult decision to introduce formal restrictions over the coming weeks to limit the pressure on resources and to protect the environment.’ 

Met Office chief forecaster Steve Willington warned: ‘We could see parts of the UK entering heatwave conditions if the above-average temperatures last for three days or more. Many areas of the UK, especially the south will witness temperatures several degrees higher than average, but these values are likely to be well below the record-breaking temperatures we saw in mid-July.

‘As the high pressure builds there is very little meaningful rain in the forecast, especially in those areas in the south of England, which experienced very dry conditions last month. Elsewhere in the UK, such as in northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, rain-bearing weather fronts will make limited headway against the high pressure, bringing some rain to north-western parts of the UK.’  

The Environment Agency said it wanted water companies to ‘consider’ hosepipe bans to protect water resources.

BEFORE AND AFTER: Grantchester Meadows in Cambridge and the cricket pitch, shown in a file picture (left) and today (right)

BEFORE AND AFTER: Rushmere Pond at Wimbledon Common in South West London, in a file picture (left) and today (right)

BEFORE AND AFTER: Parliament Square in Westminster, shown in a file picture (left) and with parched ground today (right)

Parched ground surrounding Burley Cricket Club ground in the New Forest today, ahead of a hosepipe ban in Hampshire

The parched fairways and watered greens at the Cambridgeshire Golf Club in Bar Hill are pictured this morning

Parched ground at Portchester Castle in Hampshire today, this part of Hampshire does not face a hosepipe ban from tomorrow

Parched ground at Burley Golf Club in the New Forest today, ahead of a hosepipe ban in Hampshire which starts tomorrow

Residential houses next to parched ground in Portchester near Portsmouth today, this part of Hampshire does not face a hosepipe ban from tomorrow

A group of people walk their dogs over parched ground in the New Forest today, as Hampshire prepares for a hosepipe ban

A fire warning sign at Richmond Park in South West London today following a long period of hot and dry weather 

A worker waters plants in a park in London today, ahead of restrictions for hosepipe usage in other areas from tomorrow

It said in a statement: ‘South East Water’s announcement of a temporary use ban for its customers in Kent, East Sussex and West Sussex is one of many measures they and other water companies should consider to reduce unnecessary water use, and protect customer supplies and the environment.’

Southern Water’s hosepipe ban will mean rogue use of a hosepipe for washing a car, watering plants or using a sprinkler on the lawn could result in a £1,000 fine in the courts.

Thames Water plant designed to protect people from effects of drought is switched off

A worker at the water plant in Beckton, East London, in 2010

A state-of-the-art water plant designed to protect hundreds of thousands of people from the effects of a drought has been switched off, it has been reported.

The £250million plant in Beckton, East London, will not work until next year at the earliest as Britain’s dry spell continues. 

As millions of people in the south of England prepare for a hosepipe ban, Thames Water admitted that the major water desalination plant has been switched off amid concerns over its functionality.

The plant, which was opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in 2010, is the only one in the UK designed to turn salty seawater into fresh water. Sources told the Daily Telegraph the plant has been ‘mothballed’ by Thames Water amid concerns over its high running costs.

‘Our desalination plant is currently out of service due to necessary planned work,’ a spokesman for Thames Water told the newspaper. ‘Our teams are working as fast as possible to get it ready for use early next year, if we were to have another dry winter.’

As exclusively revealed in yesterday’s Daily Mail, South East Water announced a hosepipe ban to start next Friday, which will hit some two million customers in Kent and Sussex. The water firm blamed the driest July since records began and ‘record breaking demand’. 

But South East Water’s ban is likely to enrage critics as the water firm loses around 88.5million litres of water a day to leaks – the equivalent of filling up 35 Olympic sized swimming pools.

South East Water said in a statement: ‘Demand for water in Kent and Sussex reached record highs in July – a situation which has left South East Water with no choice but to restrict the use of hose pipes and sprinklers from 12 August in both counties.

‘July was the driest in Kent since records began in 1836 and saw the lowest rainfall in Sussex since 1911.’

The firm said it had produced an additional 120 million litres of water a day – equivalent to supplying four towns the size of Maidstone or Eastbourne – but the demand for water has broken all previous records, including the Covid lockdown heatwave periods.

David Hinton, chief executive for South East Water, said: ‘This has been a time of extreme weather conditions across England with us experiencing the driest start to the year since 1976. During July in the South East, we have only seen eight per cent of average rainfall for the month.

‘As the long-term forecast for August and September is for similar weather we are taking this step to introduce temporary restrictions on the use of hosepipes and sprinklers to make sure we have enough water for our customers’ essential use, ensure we can serve our vulnerable customers and to protect the local environment.

‘With the lack of rainfall, the environment is also under considerable pressure with our underground water aquifers below average for the time of year across Kent and Sussex and raw water reservoirs also at a lower level for the time of year. By taking this action now we will be able to reduce the amount of water we take from already stressed local water sources.’

The restrictions will mean customers will be prevented from using hosepipes for watering their gardens, washing cars, patios and boats and from filling swimming and paddling pools.

Provisional figures from the Met Office showed that parts of England had their driest July since records began, a trend likely to continue due to global warming.

THEN AND NOW: A file picture of a full Ardingly reservoir in West Sussex (left), owned by South East Water, the supplier for Kent and Sussex which will restrict use of hosepipes and sprinklers. There is also a picture of the reservoir yesterday (right)

THEN AND NOW: Another file image of a full Ardingly reservoir in West Sussex (left), which is also pictured yesterday (right)

THEN AND NOW: A file photograph of a full Ardingly reservoir in West Sussex (left), which is also seen yesterday (right)

The Met Office said southern England had seen its driest July since records began in 1836

South East and central southern England saw an average of only 5.0mm of rain last month while East Anglia had 5.4mm. But forecasters warned that the dry spell will continue.

That won’t help! Streets in North West London are flooded after main bursts

Firefighters put down sandbags to protect homes in London today after streets were flooded when a water main burst.

The incident happened in Kilburn, North West London, in the early hours of this morning, with four residents evacuated as two homes flooded with 3ft (1m) of water.

A burst water main in Kilburn, North West London, this morning

Muddy water got up to property doors and flowed down the street – with wooden barricades and sandbags put in place to protect homes, reported the Evening Standard.

The London Fire Brigade were called at 4.46am and Thames Water said engineers turned off the water flow at about 6am – but were also dealing with another burst main in East Dulwich, South London.

Firefighters put up barricades after the main bursts in Kilburn 

A Thames Water spokesman said: ‘We’re sorry for the disruption these bursts have caused this morning and we’re working hard to get things back to normal as quickly as possible.’

Thames Water, which has 15million customers across London and the Thames Valley, has suggested that it could be forced to bring in a hosepipe ban later this summer.

Muddy water flowed down the street in London this morning

Dr Simon Lee, a weather scientist and co-editor in chief of Weather, the flagship journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, said on Twitter yesterday: ‘Following on from what was the driest July on record for parts of England, it is staggering and very concerning to see 16-day accumulated precipitation forecasts showing zero or no meaningful accumulations for large parts of the country.’

He added that during previous dry periods, the UK had been rescued by sudden downpours, but added that ‘luck runs out eventually’ and that the UK now needs a more resilient water supply.

In Wales, Welsh Water said water resources across the majority of the country were in a ‘reasonably good position’ despite the dry period, but said it was concerned about Pembrokeshire, where average rainfall had been a lot lower than elsewhere.

‘We are monitoring the situation very closely and communicating with customers there to urge them to use less water. The message is simple, use what you need but please don’t waste it,’ the company said.

Some water companies say they are not anticipating having to bring in restrictions this year – but warned the autumn and winter would need to restock supplies.

Affinity Water, which supplies water to parts of South East England and London, said that it should not need to introduce restrictions this year, but was dependent on rainfall over the coming winter to refill groundwater aquifers for next spring and summer.

An Anglian Water spokesman said: ‘Despite a very dry year so far, our reservoir levels are stable, at around 80 per cent full, and our groundwater sources are in reasonable shape too, so we’re not currently planning on any hosepipe bans this year,’ but added river levels were being closely watched.

‘Although one dry winter doesn’t give us cause for concern now, we also need to make sure we conserve enough water for tomorrow, next month and next summer too.

‘Certainly if we have a second dry winter this year, we won’t be in the same position next spring,’ the spokesman said.

Yorkshire Water said the area had received some rain, which had slowed the rate at which water levels were falling in its reservoirs and enabled it to take some water from the area’s rivers.

Reservoirs in the region are 51 per cent full, down 2 per cent over the week, a spokesman said, adding that the message was still to ask customers to use water wisely.

Prof Kevin Hiscock, a hydrology and water resources expert from the University of East Anglia, said climate change meant summers were expected to become warmer for longer.

He added that measures ranging from companies’ continued investment in reducing water leaks, longer-term planning to increase reservoir capacity, campaigns to install water meters, planting woodland and restoring wetlands all have a part to play.

He said: ‘We can all make a difference by using water wisely during a drought, for example restricting our use of hosepipes for watering the garden or washing the car.

‘In the longer term, then harvesting rainwater for outdoor use, installing water-efficient domestic appliances and, if not already installed, getting a water meter, all help to manage our individual water demand.’

Tory leadership contender Rishi Sunak wants to look at introducing compensation if a hosepipe ban is a direct consequence of water companies’ failures.

SOUTH EAST WATER: Around 2.2million people in Kent and Sussex in the shaded areas will face a ban from Friday next week

THAMES WATER: A Thames Water hosepipe ban would affect 15million customers in London and the Thames Valley. Thames Water’s last hosepipe ban was in 2012. And the company said that unless rain falls soon – which forecasters say is not likely – ‘the next stage of the plan would be to introduce a temporary use ban which is likely to include hosepipes’

SOUTH WEST WATER: A restriction from South West Water would affect around two million people in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset. The company, which last imposed a ban in 1996, said: ‘If the exceptional levels of demand and sustained dry weather continues we may have to make the difficult decision to introduce formal restrictions over the coming weeks’

This map from Ofwat shows which water company supplies each area of England and Wales. Key – Water and wastewater companies: ANH Anglian Water / WSH Dŵr Cymru / HDD Hafren Dyfrdwy / NES Northumbrian Water / SVE Severn Trent Water / SWB South West Water / SRN Southern Water / TMS Thames Water / UUW United Utilities Water / WSX Wessex Water / YKY Yorkshire Water // Key – Water only companies: AFW Affinity Water / BRL Bristol Water / PRT Portsmouth Water / SEW South East Water / SSC South Staffs Water / SES SES Water

The former chancellor told The Daily Telegraph he would consider introducing the measure, with hosepipe bans coming into force in parts of England as months of dry conditions push the country towards drought.

‘It is unacceptable for water companies to impose restrictions on their customers when they fail to stem leaks,’ he said. ‘We need tougher financial penalties on the companies that are not investing enough to stop water being wasted.’

SOUTHERN WATER: A ban for nearly a million customers in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight will begin tomorrow

Mr Sunak’s rival Liz Truss, meanwhile, said such bans should not have to happen. A spokesman for her campaign told the Telegraph: ‘We shouldn’t be in a position where hosepipe bans have to happen.

‘More needs to be done to make sure water companies fix leaks and waste across their networks.

‘As prime minister, Liz would look at how best Ofwat could hold those water companies with the worst track record to account, so that hard-working people across the country are not restricted on their water use over the summer months.’

The spokesman said Ms Truss believed desalination could help shore up water supplies into the future, adding that communities would be given the final say on planning permission.

Jim McMahon, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, said: ‘This crisis in our system was entirely predictable and the Government should have both anticipated and planned for it.

‘In a country with plenty of rain outside of mid-summer, we should not need to rely on hosepipe bans to get us through the dry months. The Government must get a grip of the situation and work with water companies now to avoid further disruption and chaos for families this summer.’

The moves to curb water use come after England has seen the driest eight-month period from November 2021 to July since 1976, when much of the country struggled in extreme drought.

Last month saw a record-breaking heatwave and the driest July in records dating back to 1836 for south east and central southern England.

For England as a whole, last month was the driest since 1935, Met Office figures show. The country could be in drought this month if the dry conditions continue, the Environment Agency has warned.

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By Jon Doe