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Heavy downpours put end to more water restrictions
Thames Water confirmed today there is no longer a possibility of more serious water restrictions being needed for its customers this year but expressed continuing caution about longer-term prospects.
Following exceptionally heavy rain in April and the first few days of May, the company said that although its temporary use ban, or ‘hosepipe ban’, would need to remain in place for the time being, it could now rule out applying for a Drought Order, which is required for a supplier to impose further restrictions.
Today’s announcement by Thames Water comes after the Environment Agency published a report removing drought status for 19 counties in England but confirming that London and the South East are still in drought, and that despite recent rain groundwater levels remain lower than 1976 in some areas.
Richard Aylard, Thames Water’s sustainability director, said: “It is a great relief for us that we can now rule out seeking a Drought Order this year.
“No water company wants to impose restrictions on its customers for any longer than absolutely necessary. Despite all the recent rain, we still have a serious groundwater shortage, and we could yet have a long hot summer, so, much as we’d love to, it would be irresponsible for us to lift the ‘hosepipe ban’ just yet.”
Some boreholes in the Thames region are still at exceptionally low levels and it will be a couple of weeks before it is known just how much of the recent rain has found its way deep underground to top them up.
Thames Water, which supplies 8.8m people across London and the Thames Valley, will continue to monitor the situation very carefully, while continuing to plan for the possibility of a third dry winter in succession.
It plans to update its customers early in June.
In the meantime the company is reviewing how the Temporary Use Ban is operating, and looking at ways to minimise impacts on the people whose livelihoods depend on using water in their businesses.
Following the second-wettest April on record in the Thames region (262% of long-term average rainfall), the situation on the surface of the ground, including increased flows in rivers, has improved. However, the natural underground stores of water, known as groundwater, which feed the flows in rivers throughout the year, remain exceptionally low.
“Although the current account, in our reservoirs and rivers, is in good shape at the moment, the savings account, deep below ground, is still in the red,” said Mr Aylard.
“As the latest Environment Agency data shows, following the two driest years ever in our region, the exceptionally heavy rain in April and early May has not made a significant impact deep below ground, at least not yet.
“Groundwater levels in many areas remain at their lowest ever, lower even than in 1976. So while it’s wet on top, it remains dry underneath. That means we have to be cautious about the possibility of a dry summer and particularly of a third dry winter in succession, which would create more severe problems for next year.
“In normal years, with good winter rainfall that seeps into the ground, the groundwater provides the ‘base flow’ in our rivers throughout the rest of the year. If we have another dry period we currently do not have that safety net. Until the groundwater recovers, our water resources will remain finely balanced, which is why our Temporary Use Ban must remain in place and why it's more important than ever that we all continue to use this precious resource wisely.”