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1976: Water crisis deepens

The first of 11,500 standpipes have been connected in Yorkshire as local reservoirs reach their lowest levels in years.

Yorkshire Water Authority (YWA) have said that current measures to save water have not been adequate and the standpipes could be in use in a fortnight's time.

About 750,000 people will be affected but the YWA have said that no home should be more than 100 yards (91.4 m) from a standpipe.

He urged people to help the old and sick in their communities by collecting their water for them.

This summer has had the longest period without rain for 80 years, and it is feared some reservoirs - already depleted by last year's dry weather - will be only 15% full by early November.


"Water that is saved in the home is water that is saved in the reservoirs"

Yorkshire Water

Members of the public will be able to take as much water as they need from the standpipes, but YWA spokesman Percy Gadd asked people to be as economical as possible.

"Water that is saved in the home is water that is saved in the reservoirs - and hence the stocks will last longer," he told the BBC.

In Gwent, south-east Wales, one of the most severely affected areas, 70 companies were ordered to halve water consumption. They include coal mines and works owned by British Steel.

In mid Glamorgan, 220 schools have decided to close an hour early after a 17-hour cut-off was imposed. The Education Department is worried about health issues if children are unable to flush toilets during the cut-off period.

And in the Midlands all homes and business have been told to cut water consumption by two fifths or have rationing imposed on them by the end of the month.

The drought has also led to more fires. Today, at a meeting of the committee co-ordinating measures to tackle the crisis, the Prime Minister, James Callaghan, thanked firefighters for their recent efforts.

The committee also heard from the new "Minister of Drought", Denis Howell, who reported on his recent visit around the country and his plans to tackle the situation.

Two days ago, after a helicopter trip over Devon and Cornwall, he said the Royal Navy may be asked to bring water to the south west to maintain water supplies to the worst-affected areas.

Meanwhile, the message to the public is loud and clear - an advertisement placed in the Times by the National Water Council urges us to "Think before you turn the tap on".

In Context
Several weather records were broken in the summer of 1976.

August concluded what was then the driest 16-month period since records began in 1772.

There were also two six-day periods when the temperature reached 90F (32.2C) each day - the first time this had been recorded in the UK.

Although Denis Howell was appointed Labour's "Minister of Drought" at the end of August - just before it began raining again - water restrictions remained in place for many months.

Standpipes did not reappear in Britain's streets until the drought in 1995.

Water shortages returned in 2006 and in May a drought order was granted in England and Wales for the first time since 1995, banning the non-essential use of water.

Under the six-month order, Sutton and East Surrey Water can ban car washing, the filling of swimming pools and watering of parks and sports grounds.


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