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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 December 2005, 15:14 GMT
Moves to boost reservoir levels
Bewl Water
Bewl Water reservoir has never been more empty since it was built
Emergency action is being taken after water in the south of England's biggest reservoir dropped to the lowest level ever as drought tightens its grip.

Bewl Water on the Kent/East Sussex border is now only 36% full - the lowest since it was built in 1975.

Southern Water is applying to the Environment Agency for a drought permit to help refill it over the winter.

If the permit is granted, the water company will be able to take water from the River Medway.

Flow rate

Hosepipe bans imposed in the summer remain in place across the South East as the region suffers its worst drought since 1976.

At present, Southern Water is prevented from pumping water from the Medway because its flow rate has dropped below the 275m litres per day set in its licence agreement.

It wants to be allowed to take water from the river between January and March until the flow rate drops to 100m litres a day.

Bewl Water full
Bewl reservoir looked like this when it was full in February 2003

A similar permit was granted in 1995, when Bewl had more water than it has now.

The reservoir supplies people in the Medway towns and in an area stretching from Thanet in Kent to Hastings in East Sussex.

Other water companies also take water from Bewl.

"We have had only 71% of normal rainfall in the last year and water sources across the region, particularly those underground, are well below where they should be," said Meyrick Gough, Southern's water planning manager.

"We are forecasting that 50% more rain than normal is needed this winter to allow them to recover but with a cold, dry winter on the cards this is unlikely."

Members of the public can inspect the drought permit proposals at Southern Water's HQ in Chatham and at Bewl Water's visitor centre.

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