UK rivers on ‘red alert’ as water companies face call for more hose bans | Drought

Most of the UK’s rivers are on ‘red alert’, according to the UK Center for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH), as campaigners say ‘our rivers are dying’ and call for immediate hosepipe bans across the country.

This summer, water companies have come under intense criticism for their apparent lack of planning for the drought and for dealing with their leaky pipes. Sarah Bentley, chief executive of Thames Water, received a bonus of £496,000 last year, which is almost double the previous year’s performance-related pay, and a salary increase from £438,000 to £750,000 in 2020-21, according to show the annual accounts. .

Thames Water sources have ruled out a hose ban being announced this weekend despite the dry state of southern England’s rivers.

Most water companies have refrained from banning excessive water use, such as watering gardens and hosing down cars, but river experts hope UKCEH’s August forecasts will prompt them to take action. The Rivers Trust has accused water companies of waiting until the last minute to implement bans in order to avoid backlash from customers. Only two so far, Southern Water and South East Water, have announced hose bans.

Last month was the driest July in England in over 100 years and some areas have had the driest summer on record. According to the latest forecasts, The rivers are at the most severe drought warning level in the entire country, even in areas where it has rained in recent weeks. For many, it is almost certain that the flow will be the lowest this century.

Forecasts show that major rivers, including the Avon and Waveney, are flowing more slowly than during the 2011 and 2006 droughts, when hoses were banned in many areas of the country. In Scotland, rivers including the Tyne and Tweed are forecast to flow much more slowly than usual.

Next week the government and UKCEH will produce a report based on these forecasts which will look at how dire the situation is in the UK, with dry rivers.

Activists hope an urgent action plan will be put in place, fearing the rivers could suffer long-term effects from lack of water.

Last month, the Environment Agency’s National Drought Group, made up of agricultural groups, environmental experts and government agency representatives, met to discuss the response. They were supposed to meet in October, but the meeting was moved up due to drastic conditions. However, the government does not enforce hosepipe bans, leaving it up to the water companies. He can give advice and has been urging more action to be taken.

But the charities don’t think this is good enough. Josh Jones, Senior Technical Analyst at Rivers Trust, said: “It just shows that we need to implement management. Without managing demand when there is limited supply, we are heading towards the rivers and the wildlife in the rivers towards a difficult time. First, we need to slow down the flow of water into rivers and replenish soil moisture, and we need more wetlands that also store water. Water companies should implement hose bans across the country and they should be proactive rather than retroactive, this problem has been brewing for a long time. Even if you look at a 12-month average, it’s below average rainfall for the entire country. This problem was predictable.”

A spokesman for the Angling Trust said: “Let’s not sugarcoat this, our rivers are dying. The situation is farcical, predictable and entirely the result of our abject failure to plan properly in this country. A new reservoir hasn’t been built in the south of England since 1976, coincidentally in response to the last major drought, but since then millions more people have lived here and used more and more water. With the impacts of climate change being felt here and now, the government and water companies knew this was coming. However, they have prioritized profit over the needs of our environment and wildlife.”

The consequences for nature could be dire due to this lack of action, he added. He said: “We are seeing an increasing number of fish kills, lack of oxygen and lack of water, and we have to deal with this on top of the pollution that is being dumped into our rivers. And the lack of water is killing our chalk streams, which is why we have a global responsibility to protect. Many of them, from the Pang in Berkshire to the See in Hertfordshire, no longer flow along long stretches of their upper reaches, some of the most important habitats for wildlife.

“It is important to reduce demand and introduce hose bans. We are in a drought, it is a crisis, we all have to do our part. But all this is just an adhesive plaster. What we are experiencing is the new normal. We need urgent action and a much faster response from the government, regulators and water companies.”

Thames Water told The Guardian that its teams had been working 24/7 to maintain the water supply, but if the drought continues, water-saving measures, including restrictions, may be needed. . The company has a statutory drought plan, and implemented the first stage of that plan in May, which was a media campaign with tips to save water.

“The next stage of the plan would be to introduce a temporary use ban that would probably include hoses. Timing will depend on the amount of water used by our customers, which determines the rate at which reservoir storage declines, and the amount of flow in the rivers, which determines how much water we can take to refill them,” said Thames Water. .

He added: “Customers can really help us with this long-term planning by using water wisely, only using what they really need.”

The Guardian has approached Defra for comment.

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