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Page last updated at 14:38 GMT, Wednesday, 7 July 2010 15:38 UK
Why do we need a hosepipe ban in the North West?

Low levels in Thirlmere reservoir
Thirlmere is just over half full, well below what's expected for this time of year

Millions of people in the North West are getting used to the idea of the region's first hosepipe ban in 14 years.

United Utilities say they need to impose the ban which comes into force on Friday 9 July to 'safeguard essential supplies.'

Normally it's the parched South East facing water restrictions while the reservoirs in the North are full to overflowing.

So why, with the Lake and Peak Districts on its doorstep, is the North West the first to run dry?

Why is there a water shortage in the North West?

Greater Manchester gets its water from two vast sources in the Lake District - Haweswater and Thirlmere - and the Longdendale reservoirs in Derbyshire.

Thirlmere reservoir
How Thirlmere should look

The Lake District water comes entirely from rainwater running off the fells.

How it gets all the way to Manchester is a miracle of Victorian engineering.

Thirlmere aqueduct, an underground tunnel two metres wide and 84 miles long, moves up to two million gallons of fresh water every day into the Manchester water system.

However, as a result of the recent drought, United Utilities says Thirlmere and Haweswater are now just over half full (51.4%), exposing up to three metres of shoreline which is normally submerged.

At this time of year, reservoirs would normally be at around 75%.

How much rain has fallen?

Very little rain has fallen in the North West of England in 2010, which means reservoirs are not being replenished.

Rain drops in a puddle
Rainfall so far this year is at its lowest for 80 years

The Met Office say it's the second driest start to a year (Jan - June) since 1929.

According to the Met Office, just 308 mm of rain fell in the North West in the first six months of the year; this compares to the long term average of 529.6 mm for the region (1971-2000). So, in effect, we've had just 58% of the average rainfall this year.

And despite the region's rainy reputation, rainfall levels in the North have been below the UK average each month this year.

April was especially dry - just 33.7mm fell.

A United Utilities spokesman said: "We think we need several weeks of sustained rainfall just to stabilise the reservoir levels.

"The current Met Office estimate is that the ground will absorb the first four inches of any rainfall before we see any replenishment of stocks."

What about leaks?

United Utilities are not only responsible for bringing clean, fresh water to our taps they're also responsible for stopping leaks.

According to their own figures, 462 million litres of water leak every day from their 40,000 km of pipes, many of which are old and in need of replacement.

However, they say that figure compares to more than 900 million litres a day before privatisation.

United Utilities have an ongoing repair programme and have, to date, replaced 10,000 km of pipes.

What does a hosepipe ban mean?

The first hosepipe ban in the North West for 14 years comes into force at 6am on Friday, 9 July 2010.


It means that seven million customers of United Utilities will be banned from using hosepipes or sprinklers on their gardens and for washing cars.

The penalty for flouting the ban is a fine of up to £1,000.

Their reasoning is that a hosepipe can use as much water in an hour as a family of four would use in one day.

The last hosepipe ban which ran from August 1995 to October 1996 was introduced after only four months of very dry weather.

The current ban is being introduced after seven months of drought.

Who is exempt from the ban?

People in the North West who receive their water from another water supplier eg. Dee Valley Water are not subject to the ban.

Also exempt are: race courses, golf courses, playing fields, sports grounds, recreation grounds, agricultural ground, commercial allotments, public gardens and parks, car washing businesses and registered disabled or blue badge holders (who may struggle to carry a watering can.)

Public sector vehicles (e.g. ambulances) can also be washed with a hosepipe, unlike private vehicles.

What are the alternatives?

United Utilities says that maintaining the system and spending money on leaks has to be balanced against cost of bills.

They say they could ensure that we would never have to suffer a hosepipe ban but there would have to be a massive hike in the costs to consumers and Ofwat, the regulator for the water services industry, wouldn't let them do it.

Essentially, they believe that a hosepipe ban once every 15 years is better than bigger bills for customers.

What else is United Utilities doing?

United Utilities says it's moving water around its integrated network from areas of more abundant supply to areas where water levels are lower.

The company is also drawing on reserve supplies and pump water from underground sources.

However, the company is also asking customers to be more water efficient with its Using Water Wisely campaign.

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