Thames sunset

Sunset on the river Thames viewed from Greenwich

News Edit

See separate article - Drought in England and Wales news

(This article needs updating)

February 2006 Edit

For the second winter running (2005/6) England and Wales has had less rain than expected, in the south east in particular.

Water companies rely on winter rain to top up reservoirs rivers and groundwater, which is where they obtain our tapwater. In the south east some 70% of the public supply is from groundwater, which generally takes longer to recharge than a reservoir.

Drought is a natural phenomenon. Water companies have drought plans, which set out the measures needed to maintain a water supply; the companies are currently drafting new plans for submission to the Secretary of State at the end of March. The plans set out a range of measures that may be necessary to maintain a supply under different drought intensities. Measures include advertising; hose pipe bans, applications for drought permits (to increase abstraction) and drought orders (to restrict non essential uses - watering of parks and golf courses, filling of private swimming pools, for example)

The use of stand pipes can only be sanctioned by the Secretary of State under an emergency drought order.

Leakage figures for England and Wales are published annually in the Ofwat ‘Security of supply, leakage and the efficient use of water’ reports. Total industry leakage for 1994/95 was reported as 5112 Megalitres/day, 2004/05 was 3608 Megalitres/day. This is a reduction of 1504 Megalitres/day, or nearly 30%.

At a time of growing pressure on water resources in some parts of the country, water industry stakeholders need to work together in practical ways to promote the efficient use of water in households. The key stakeholders have joined a new ministerially-led group, the Water Saving Group, which will define, monitor, carry out and review projects and workstreams dealing with targets, the evidence base, best practice, education and policy. The first meeting of this group was on 20 October 2005 at which members agreed an action plan.

Drought orders and permits Edit

Further information on drought orders and permits can be found via Defra’s website

Drought in South East England Edit

Minister urges ‘use water sensibly now’, February 2 2006

Environment and Climate Change Minister Elliot Morley today urged consumers, businesses and water companies to be mindful of their own role in preventing a serious water shortage in the south east.

Mr Morley said:

"People will remember the hosepipe bans of last summer, when low rainfall was a cause for concern. Six months on some of those bans are still in effect as the dry winter adds to pressure on the water supply. Speculation this week about the prospect of serious drought across the region is not misplaced.

Emergency measures, such as the use of standpipes, aren’t inevitable this summer however if we take steps now to ensure that we are using water sensibly.

No single body can make this happen. It is not simply down to the water companies, or to Government, or to consumers, to take action. Only a joint effort from every one of us to understand what we can do, and then do it, will reduce the risk of shortages should this period of low rainfall extend to the summer.

Consumers and businesses can telephone water companies or visit their websites for advice on making more efficient use of their water. This doesn’t mean draconian cutbacks, but common sense ways of ensuring water isn’t just wasted.

Action by consumers must be matched by action from water companies, and I am expecting water companies to use the range of options set out in their Drought Plans to maximise efficiency and minimise disruption to supply.

In England and Wales companies have achieved nearly a 30% reduction in leakage since 1994, which equates to the amount of water consumed by 10 million people. Consumers and businesses can help water companies make further reductions by reporting visible leaks. But some companies missed their targets last year, and their performance has to improve. They are reminded that their customers will expect them to demonstrate an improvement in leakage rates as one of the measures they take before seeking a drought order.

It is easy to hope that action taken by someone else, somewhere else, means the rest of us can continue to take our water supply for granted. The uncomfortable truth is that we cannot, and that action by every one of us in our own homes and workplaces can make a real difference."

Random facts Edit

  • In the South East, there is less water per person than in Syria or the Sudan. Source: Defra, 26 April 2007
  • In the Thames river catchment in southern England total rainfall over the last two November-April periods has been the lowest since the 1890s. Source: Defra, The environment in your pocket 2006

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