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Last Updated: Friday, 17 March 2006, 12:48 GMT
South: Drought
Ian Paul
Ian Paul
Producer Politics Show
BBC South

Bewl Water reservoir
Bewl Water reservoir reached its lowest ever level in late 2005

Water, water everywhere - well, apparently not if you live in the south of England.

It seems hard to credit in Britain of all places, but apparently there has just not been enough rain and we are heading for a drought.

At least we are down south - up north they have plenty of water. Their reservoirs are at nine-tenths of capacity - ours are at four tenths.

Which is why this week Thames Water announced a hosepipe ban as from 3 April 2006.

And why Folkestone and Dover Water in Kent was given permission to install compulsory water meters.

The idea is to get us to cut down on our usage. Are water meters the answer?

After all, we have meters for gas and electricity, why not the newly scarce resource?

Back in 1989 compulsory metering was trialled in 11 areas across the country - one of them the Isle of Wight.

Meters were installed in every property on the island (they are still there, incidentally) and according to Ofwat there was an average reduction in usage of around 11%, although that did creep back up again.

It is perhaps ironic then that this week Southern Water announced they will be imposing hosepipe bans too - on the Isle of Wight.

We have had to cope with severe water shortages before, in the drought of 1976.

Hosepipe bans were the least of it - we also had bricks in the cistern, standpipes in the street, suggestions of using bath water (no more than five inches, begged the government) to water the garden, and washing up water to flush the loo.

There was even "Bath with a friend".

That last is perhaps a little too risqué these days. Instead we are being exhorted not to bath at all, but take showers.

And the brick in the cistern of 1976 has been replaced with a more high-tech bag of granules that expands in water.

But these are all just ways of getting us to use less. Maybe a more radical - and painful - solution is needed.

For example, what if the price of tap water were hiked to the same level as we pay for bottled water?

Politics Show South splashed out on a bottle of water which set us back £1.05 for a litre.

The same bottle filled from the tap would have cost 0.2p.

With that pricing structure, having a bath, which currently costs 15p and uses 80 litres would run up a bill of £84.

Bathing with a friend might seem a lot more appealing again in those circumstances.

And using a hosepipe could become something that nobody would be keen to do.

Currently for an hour's spraying the petunias it costs £1.01 - but the petunias soak up 540 litres.

£567 to have a nice floral display anyone?

Obviously that is an extreme example, but if encouraging us to be more frugal does not work, maybe we will need to be given serious financial incentives.

What do you think? Should we be taxed into being responsible?

Should the government be making a massive infrastructure investment to bring water from the moist north to the parched south?

If we cannot even meet the water needs of the current population, should we be thinking of building more homes in the south?

Send us your views and we will put them to our guests.

The Politics Show

Join Peter Henley live from the Hare Hatch garden centre near Reading.

The Politics Show on Sunday 26 March 2006 at 12.30pm on BBC One.

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Politics from around the UK...

Drought measures 'lack strategy'
10 Jan 06 |  England
11 Sep 05 |  England


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