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Hosepipe ban threat for millions of homeowners

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 24 June 2010

A major water supplier says hose pipe bans could soon be implemented across the North West of England as low rainfall affects the reservoir supplies. As Nick Martin reports, the ban would come despite flooding earlier this year.

A couple water their vegetables (credit: Getty)

Seven million homes in the north west of England are being warned to limit their use of water as the region was officially declared a drought zone.

The Environment Agency will receive an application tomorrow from water provider United Utilities to increase the amount of water it can remove from lakes and rivers in North West England.
The application follows the driest start to the year in the region since 1929, with many reservoirs at under half capacity.

Rainfall in May was just 38 per cent of the region’s long term average and June looks set to follow this dry trend.

As the government’s environmental watchdog, the Environment Agency will consider the application to make sure that the water needs of people, businesses and the environment are balanced.

The north west water provider United Utilities, will also have to demonstrate that it has taken all reasonable steps to manage water supply and consumer demand.

Table from United Utilities below shows water levels


United Utilities will apply for permission to increase the amount of water taken from Ennerdale reservoir in the Lake District to supply the Whitehaven area of  West Cumbria.

The Environment Agency and United Utilities are also discussing the possibility of further applications to allow it to take more water from both Windermere and Longdendale Valley reservoirs.

Trevor Bishop, Head of Water Resources at the Environment Agency, said: "With the exception of North West England, there is currently little threat to public water supplies across the rest of England and Wales, as groundwater levels are healthy and reservoirs are generally within their normal operating zones, despite some being below average for this time of year.  River levels in Wales are also very low for the time of year."

"In simple terms, it just hasn't rained enough and the north west of England has the wrong sort of geology."

"Because of the region's geology, the north-west has no underground aquifers that are slowly and steadily replenished with water during the winter. 

"Elsewhere, aquifers are reasonably full so there's no threat of drought.  But the north west region relies almost exclusively on rain pouring into rivers to fill lakes and reservoirs for its water supplies - Manchester, for example, gets its water from the Lake District."

- Click here for Science Correspondent Julian Rush's analysis in full

The Environment Agency has warned that across the country water resources are under pressure from climate change and population growth.

It says that by 2050, many rivers could see an 50-80 per cent reduction in average river flows during summer months. 

 “We are working to balance the water needs of people, businesses and the environment in the North West," added Mr Bishop.

“We are working closely with United Utilities to make sure they are doing everything they can to secure water supplies, manage customer demand and tackle leakage.

“Drought also has serious consequences for wildlife and Environment Agency officers are increasing river monitoring to manage any environmental impacts from drought."


The local impact
Angler Steve Fisher has never known the River Ribble near Preston to be so dry.

He told Channel 4 News: "It's the lowest water level I've seen and I've fished here for 30 years. You can already see the weed growing. That takes the oxygen out of the water but it also gets into the mouths of the fish and blocks their gills.

"At the beginning of the open season there were around 20 anglers here. They aren't bothering now."

And he believes United Utilities should have acted sooner.

"If the water company knew we were heading for a dry summer they should have put in hosepipe bans and the like before now."

More anaylsis
- From floods to drought: the state of Britain's water

Along the river farmer William Thomson is raking a grass field. He sowed it in March but because of the lack of rainfall it hasn't yielded as he had hoped.

"The straw from this field goes to feed our beef cattle and it's not good enough quality this year.

That means we have to buy in feed and it's expensive."

If rainfaill remains low for the next month a hosepipe ban will be put in force, the first time that has happened in the north west region since the last drought in 1995."

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