The current heatwave in the UK is causing fresh concerns for water companies around the country. Millions of homes are being put on alert as many see drops in water pressure and hosepipe bans become a real threat.
Temperatures have reached highs of 37C in recent days and this has led to further spikes in water consumption, worsening already low supplies in some areas.
As is often the case, the drier and heavily populated south east of England is the worst hit, although traditionally wetter areas such as Yorkshire are also under pressure.
Here we’ll look at each struggling region and water company in detail.
South East Water
South East Water serves 2.2 million consumers including the urban areas of Maidstone, Eastbourne and Basingstoke, to name a few. The region is historically one of the driest in the UK and this has worsened over recent years.
A quick look at South East Water’s website home page shows that there is a serious problem in the region in August 2020. The page is dominated by warnings about being careful with water consumption in a bid to avoid hosepipe bans being imposed by the company.
The company state that they are “pumping a record breaking amount of water into our network, up to an extra 150 million litres of water a day”. They cite an increased demand due to more of us being at home, increased staycations and people undertaking more DIY and gardening projects.
Head of central operations for South East Water, Steve Andrews, said:
Our water technicians have been working round the clock, but with this record amount of water being used daily it is getting harder to keep up.
I am now appealing to everyone – households and businesses – to keep water for essential use only while the heat is on this weekend and next week.
Our customers responded brilliantly and cut demand by 30 million litres by reducing non-essential water use on Saturday, but we need to keep this up and reduce it still further. When demand is this high, we simply can’t treat enough raw water and get it through the extensive network of pipes to all customers, especially at peak times.
Our water technicians have been working round the clock to produce this extra drinking quality water needed – the equivalent of filling to the brim almost half a million baths – and we’ve been fixing as many leaks as we can on our extensive network.
By not using water-guzzling garden hoses and sprinklers as well as not jet-washing the car and patio, everyone can do their bit for their community.
There sounds like we should have a break in the weather this week which will bring your garden some welcome rain so please only water plants that really need it and definitely no sprinklers – your golden lawn will bounce back.
I was shocked to be told that the average paddling pool now needs a whopping 530 litres of water to fill them – more than three times the total daily amount of water usually used by one person. This is adding to the high demand for water seen during this hot summer weather.
The South East Water website also offers a list of water saving tips.
United Utilities are the biggest water supplier in the UK, supplying water to around 7 million people in the North West of England. This region is home to some of the wettest cities and areas, statistically speaking. Cities include Liverpool, Manchester, Lancaster and Carlisle as well as The Lake District National Park.
The company have said employees were struggling to cope with the huge demand after the driest May in 150 years.
They’ve recently pledged to spend £290 million over the next five years to reduce leakage from water pipework. This money is part of a wider £5.5 billion investment in the region.
The United Utilities website also offers a list of water saving tips.
Yorkshire Water serves around 3 million customers in the Yorkshire region. This is a big area, covering cities like Sheffield in the South, Hull in the East and stretching all the way up to the seaside town of Whitby in the North. It also includes large populations in cities such as Bradford and Leeds.
While the company state that “It’s unlikely there’ll be a hosepipe ban, we haven’t had one since 1995”, they’ve also urged customers to turn off taps when brushing teeth as well as asking them to take a four-minute shower instead of a bath.
Asking customers to save water in this way is the first option for companies like Yorkshire Water to avoid further water restrictions such as hosepipe bans.
The Yorkshire Water website also offers a list of water saving tips.
Thunderstorms on the way
Thunderstorms are predicted across the country in the coming week which should provide some respite for withering plants and yellowing lawns. But will it help with water supplies and threats of a hosepipe ban?
There’s a major problem with any rainfall in spring and summer in terms of replenishing water stocks, especially when temperatures are high on the whole.
At this time of year vegetation is at its hungriest for water so a large percentage of rainfall simply gets drunk up by trees, plants and grass. The other big factor is evaporation of rainwater due to temperature.
So while summer rain does help to an extent, it’s nowhere near as important as rainfall during the colder months of the year.
Prospects of a Hosepipe Ban in 2020
2020 has been an unprecedented year in history, not only for the UK, but the world in general. In terms of water consumption it can be argued that there has been an increase domestically as the majority of us stayed at home for several months.
We think that a hosepipe ban is still very unlikely this year, especially as we get nearer to September and the normally wetter months ahead.
However, there’s no doubt that many water companies are struggling to keep up with increased demand from a growing population. A sudden increase in hand washing this year certainly doesn’t help that, although it’s obviously very necessary.
What we all need to hope for now is a wet autumn and winter, otherwise the prospects of a a hosepipe ban and water restrictions in 2021 will be very high.
The main worry from today’s report is that both United Utilities and Yorkshire Water are needing to warn their customers about water use. These are amongst the wettest regions in England.
The other worry is that the Isle of Man and parts of Ireland had to impose hosepipe bans earlier in 2020. This might mean nothing to mainland Britain, but it’s perhaps a little too close to home to ignore.
Keep up to date with developments on our Hosepipe Ban: Current Situation page.