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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 July, 2005, 01:02 GMT 02:02 UK
Water pressure may be future woe
By Clare Babbidge
BBC News

The prospect of hosepipe bans and even enforced water meters are in the headlines as UK water firms seek powers to deal with shortages - but is this a sign of things to come?

Running tap
People are being asked to think about their use of water

The UK's first hosepipe ban for nine years came into force last month.

Southern Water said the reservoir supplying the 110,000 affected homes in north Sussex was only half full following one of the driest winters on record.

But it seems potential water shortages may continue to be of concern, particularly in the South East, as industry experts and commentators predict pressure on supplies will increase.

Population demands, unpredictable weather and the growing demands of householders are all given as reasons.

Water UK, the body representing water companies, says a number of factors are set to put pressure on supplies.

Harder rain

Barrie Clarke, the body's director of communications, said: "It's likely that the pressure on water supplies and the balance between supply and demand is likely to get tighter.

"Basically for reasons quite topical at the moment - changes in climate.

"We are seeing much harder rain, more volatile weather and hotter summers. These all make it harder for rain to be captured."

As a society we are going to need to look harder at our use of water
Barrie Clarke
Water UK

He said harder rainfall mean water was washed away rather than soaking into rock and reaching reservoirs.

This was particularly bad news for the South East - where around 70% of supplies was based on groundwater, he said.

Paul Hipwell, an independent industry analyst, believes increasing population will be among pressures on the UK water supply.

He said: "There will be very much more pressure in the South East.

"If you look at the population of the North East of England, for example, population is down slightly and there aren't as many big developments planned.

"But in the South East the population has grown significantly as a result of economic attraction, immigration and job availability.

"There is more growth in store, with government plans for more housing in the Thames corridor."

He said Scotland and Wales did not generally face the same demands on water supplies.

Andrew Boyd, a spokesman for Thames Water, said the region's population was set to rise by 800,000 by 2016 - all bringing additional water needs.

He said: "It is the equivalent of the population of Leeds moving to London.

"As well as this, the average amount of water used by each person is going up."

Water industry analyst Mr Hipwell, backed this finding.

'Affluent' demand

"It seems that as the population becomes more affluent, people use more water, perhaps as a result of dishwashers, power showers and washing more," he said.

He did not believe restrictions placed on the public's use of water would prove very popular.

He said: "People expect to have water coming into their homes as a matter of right.

"I don't think they will tolerate measures such as hosepipe bans for long. Especially considering rises in water bills."

Mr Hipwell added the public also expected water companies to do their bit, and that one problem in the UK was water wasted through leakage.

He said some pipes in London were around 150 years old but Thames Water was now spending money to address this problem.

It is the equivalent of the population of Leeds moving to London
Andrew Boyd
Thames Water

Thames Water's Mr Boyd accepted the firm's leakage problem had been "undeniably high" with around 30% of water being wasted.

But he said the firm had been spending around 90m a year on finding and fixing leaks as well as other projects to replace the oldest pipelines.

As for the future, Mr Boyd felt in the London region pressure on supplies was "very much dependent" on the weather.

In the last eight months the region had seen only 59% of expected rainfall, he said.

Meanwhile Water UK's Mr Clarke, said firms were working to increase supply as well as improve distribution.

This included researching the possibility of new reservoirs in Kent and Oxfordshire.

He did not believe water supply problems saw a "north-south divide", rather that various parts of the UK were more affected than others.

Water firms are also working with the public to help conserve valuable supplies, he added.

The public were being asked to help in lots of small ways such as turning off taps when brushing teeth or washing vegetables and keeping a water butt in the garden for watering.

The Environment Agency is also asking the public to consider a range of "simple steps", such as taking showers instead of baths and not watering the lawn.

Mr Clarke said 24% of households in England and Wales now had water meters, and in a lot of cases these had been put in voluntarily.

"As a society we are going to need to look harder at our use of water," he said.

High and dry
08 Jun 05 |  Magazine
Company warns hose ban may spread
10 Jun 05 |  Southern Counties

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