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Press release

Hosepipe bans FAQs

Updated 18 August

What is the current situation?

  • Six companies (Dwr Cymru, Southern, South East Water, South West Water, Thames Water and Yorkshire Water) have applied to bring in localised Temporary Use Bans (commonly called Hosepipe Bans) in all or part of their regions
  • This follows unprecedented weather conditions in parts of the country, including the driest start to the year since 1976 and the driest July since the 1930s – with some regions experiencing even more extreme conditions than that. We have also seen record-breaking levels of demand in places – up 40% or more, which means some companies have had to produce hundreds of millions of litres of extra water each day, equivalent to adding multiple additional towns of people to the network
  • With hot dry weather continuing across much of the country, every water company has detailed plans in place to manage water resources for customers and the environment, and are doing everything they can, including working closely with government and regulators, to minimise the need for any restrictions and ensure rivers continue to flow
  • We continue to urge everyone to carefully consider the amount they are using given the unprecedented conditions. The water industry is running a national water saving campaign called Water’s Worth Saving that provides the public with helpful hints and tips on how to do their bit with water use in the home and garden

Are other regions going to implement a TUB?

  • Companies are doing all they can to minimise the need for restrictions – for example, by changing their sources of water to reduce pressure on hot-spots and by moving water around their regions to reinforce areas under pressure
  • In addition, impacts do vary across the country, with some regions feeling much less pressure than others.
    However, the unprecedented weather conditions have led to large numbers of rivers experiencing stretches of low flow, particularly in the south of England. Companies are therefore monitoring the situation very closely. If specific triggers are passed in a region (which typically include, for example, levels of groundwater, river flows, and weather forecasts) they will follow the actions described in their Drought Plans, which include the use of temporary use bans once a particular point in the plan has been reached.
    It is very difficult to predict which triggers will be passed, where, and when – and therefore whether any further restrictions will be needed. Ultimately this will depend on the weather we get

Isn’t it unacceptable for companies to be introducing restrictions? They are very disruptive for customers.

  • No company wants to introduce restrictions if they can possibly be avoided. They try to provide as much notice as possible, and have created a number of exemptions to be sensitive to scenarios where restrictions would cause particular difficulty
  • However, with at least six rivers recording record-breaking shortages of water, we have to be responsible and try to reduce demand as much as possible. Experience suggests that, for those regions experiencing the most acute pressure, voluntary measures alone will be insufficient for achieving the kinds of reductions needed
  • Each company’s Drought Plan – which has been agreed with Ministers and regulators, and consulted on publicly – sets out when Temporary Use Bans could become necessary in a given area. Restrictions are part of our planned and pre-agreed system for managing severe weather conditions
  • Companies have delivered a range of schemes in recent years to reduce the need for restrictions, which is why we have seen far fewer of them – with fewer activities prohibited – than in other countries like France
  • We have also developed 18 major, long-term projects like new reservoirs which will, as they are completed, ensure we adapt to climate change and further reduce the likelihood of restrictions in future

Isn’t it unacceptable for companies not to be introducing restrictions? They are needed to protect the environment.

  • Companies are acutely aware of the need to protect the environment. River levels were a major factor in some of the recent decisions to introduce restrictions, and are being monitored on a daily basis
  • Decisions on which steps to take in response to dry conditions are based on Drought Plans, which have been agreed with the Secretary of State and Environment Agency. These plans set out specific triggers for activating different levels of response (including restrictions like Temporary Use Bans). Triggers are both hydrological and meteorological, and rest on data like observed groundwater and river levels, and temperature and rainfall predictions
  • Typically, restrictions are activated once a set of pre-agreed conditions and risk indicators have been met. Assessments about whether they have been met use methodologies, modelling and indicators that are all set out in the agreed plans, and once other steps defined by the plan have also been taken. Each plan can be read on the relevant company’s website
  • Reducing demand is just one way that companies are helping the environment – for example, they have also been sending pulses of cold water from reservoirs to rehydrate and cool down rivers to protect fish (especially salmon stocks), and are choosing their sources of water in a way that tries to alleviate as much pressure as possible on hot-spot low flow areas

Why is demand so high in parts of the country?

  • It is normal for water demand to be higher during periods of hot weather, with people washing more, watering their plants, and using water outside
  • Prolonged periods of hot and dry weather, with temperatures exceeding 30 degrees Celsius on some days, has led to very high levels of demand from customers, with some companies seeing demand exceed 30-40% of normal levels at this time of year
  • In some cases customers have been using more than the highest levels ever previously recorded; this has required some water companies to each produce hundreds of millions of litres of extra water each day

What are the restrictions? What is allowed and not allowed?

How long will TUBs be in place?

  • TUBs are used for as long as they are needed in a specific region, which will vary depending on local conditions
  • Companies constantly monitor their storage and demand levels, and how the environment is faring, in considering when to bring restrictions to an end. They also take into account the latest high-resolution weather forecasts
  • Each company will keep customers informed of any changes

What are companies doing to improve the situation?

  • In the short-term, affected companies are changing where they source their water from and moving it differently in order to reduce pressure on other users (like agriculture) and the environment, and to protect future supplies.
  • In addition, there are large numbers of extra people out repairing leaks, water production has been increased at treatment works, and where appropriate additional measures have been taken (including the use of reinforcing boreholes to transfer additional water into rivers, and an expansion of customer communications on how to use water wisely)
  • Companies are also taking action wherever possible to directly help the environment, such as injecting cool reservoir water into parched, overheated rivers – something that has already saved some fish stocks
  • In the long-term, each company has developed a 25-year plan to ensure water demand and supplies remain balanced, and the risk of future drought continues to reduce
  • The industry has also developed 18 major, cross-country projects that together would deliver enough water for 10 million people. With a cost of around £14billion, projects include major water transfers (for example, from the River Severn to the River Thames, or via the Grand Union Canal) as well as new reservoirs. These are currently under scrutiny from regulators

What can customers do?

  • Everyone can play their part by carefully considering the amount of water they use
  • Our national water saving campaign – Water’s Worth Saving – has helpful hints and tips on how to reduce water use in the home and garden

What about the water wasted through burst pipes and leaks?

  • England is currently seeing the lowest ever leakage in history, having reduced it by over a third since the 1990s. In the last few years alone leakage has fallen across the sector by 11%
  • There are further steep reductions planned each year for the rest of this decade, with very significant penalties if companies miss targets. Companies will spend nearly one and a half billion pounds on leakage between 2020 and 2025
  • This progress has seen our performance race ahead of other countries like Ireland and Italy, and start to overtake countries like France
  • During the current hot conditions it is possible for dried, cracking soil to move and press on pipes, increasing the likelihood of new bursts. Companies currently have many hundreds of people out each day finding and fixing these as they occur to make sure we continue making progress
  • Teams are increasingly using advanced technology like intelligent networks and smart sensors, artificial intelligence, and satellite and drone technology to detect leaks, and new advanced techniques to repair them quickly – sometimes without even needing to dig up the road

Why haven’t you just built more reservoirs?

  • Industry has completed a large number of major schemes in recent decades to improve the resilience of water supplies and ease pressure on sensitive water sources
  • Projects have included the Birmingham Resilience scheme, Bristol Water’s Southern Resilience Scheme, £230million of investment by Wessex Water on a grid to move water to where it’s most needed and reduce abstraction from chalk streams, and investment by Affinity Water to end unsustainable abstraction from chalk groundwater to help protect the region’s globally rare chalk streams
  • On top of those, companies have put forward a number of proposals for reservoirs in the past, but they are always subject to scrutiny from regulators about their near-term need and value for money, as well as planning permission. A number have been refused permission to proceed on that basis
  • That scrutiny process, and planning permission for projects, is long and very complex. However, one reservoir – at Havant Thicket – has made excellent progress and is due to be completed before the end of the decade. This will protect the River Test and River Itchen – both of which are sensitive and important chalk streams. It is under development by Portsmouth and Southern Water and will hold about 8.7 billion litres of water
  • Companies have made a further 18 proposals, which are now under consideration in a new arrangement introduced by regulators to speed-up and facilitate their decision-making, and make it more likely that projects can proceed. These schemes – strongly supported by industry – would deliver new drinking water for 10 million people and are an essential part of providing the 3.5billion litres or more of water needed by 2050 due to population growth and climate change
  • The Government has also committed to finalising new arrangements by the end of the year that should streamline the process of gaining planning permission for nationally significant water projects

What are companies doing to support other key sectors, like agriculture?

  • Water companies know river flows are exceptionally low and the situation for many abstractors, including farmers, is difficult. It is likely to remain so into the autumn if long-range forecasts of low rainfall are borne out.
  • Companies are taking steps to support farmers and the environment in their areas by:
    • Sending pulses of cold water from reservoirs into rivers to help species survive in the hottest weather
    • Pumping water from boreholes into rivers to maintain flows
    • Reducing abstraction in hot-spot areas to increase flows in other areas where it is needed for agriculture and the environment
    • Delivering bowsers of water to farmers to replenish on-farm storage
    • Trading water between farmers and other abstractors
    • Exploring a project to reuse nutrient and water rich effluent for agriculture

What should I do if a neighbour is doing something prohibited by a Temporary Use Ban? Will you fine them?

  • Most people tell us that they understand the importance of conserving water and will follow the rules
  • However, if on the rare occasion that you know someone who isn’t, you may wish to politely remind them of the restrictions in force, the activities covered, and that restrictions are in place to protect rivers and safeguard water supplies. Using hosepipes in areas under restriction puts much more pressure on the environment at a time when that is more likely to do damage
  • Companies do have enforcement powers, and if they have to then they can ultimately impose fines on anyone breaching the rules. But they will always prefer to first offer advice, explanation, encouragement and support, and will be taking a pragmatic approach