Thames Water has announced it is today lifting its months-long hosepipe ban after above-average rainfall replenished reservoirs depleted by this summer’s sweltering temperatures. The utility firm said reduced demand from consumers who had heeded the need to reduce usage had helped keep taps flowing in the intervening period.
In a statement today, the company said September and October had average rainfall over 130 percent of usual levels, and a months’ worth of rain had already fallen in the first two weeks of November.
This meant that reservoirs that serve London and surrounding areas had been largely replenished. Farmoor had returned to being 87 percent full, it said, allowing continued supply to 480,000 consumers in Oxfordshire and Wiltshire.
Sarah Bentley, the Thames Water chief executive who faced criticism over supply issues in the summer heat, commented: “Whilst storage levels have improved at many of our reservoirs, we’re not out of the woods yet.
“Some sites in West London remain below average, which is why we’re adopting a cautious approach and carefully monitoring water levels throughout autumn and winter.”
She added: “Careful consideration has gone into our decision to remove the ban. Despite the recent rain, we still need to protect our future water supply.
“We need more rain throughout winter to ensure our rivers and reservoirs are fully recharged, ready for spring and summer next year.”
After scorching heatwaves in the summer that left reservoirs near-empty, Britain has returned to its usual onslaught of rain in November.
This has led the Met Office and Environment Agency to issue a series of flood warnings for parts of the UK.
There are currently three red alerts covering parts of the River Wreake and River Maun – where flooding is expected.
Meanwhile, there are 79 amber warnings, across vast swathes of England, where flooding is possible.
However, while a return of British downpours may keep water levels high over the winter, experts have warned that similar rationing will have to occur if there is another hot summer next year and infrastructure is not improved.
Earlier this year, Mark Maslin, an author and professor of earth system science at UCL, slammed water companies for “making huge profits” while not preparing enough storage capacity for hot, dry conditions that initially led to an official shortage being declared across much of England.
He told Express.co.uk: “A drought is two things: it is a lack of water, but it’s also a lack of planning for a lack of water.
“Rome doesn’t run out of water. Saudi Arabia doesn’t run out of water.”
The Government “woke up” to water storage issues after a severe drought in 1976, and began a large programme of reservoir building, Professor Maslin explained at the time, but “since the water companies were privatised, they do not prioritise long-term strategic infrastructure”.
A recent report by regulator Ofwat found that of the 17 large water suppliers it regulates, none had met their water usage targets for 2020-21, while five had not achieved their goal for reducing leakages in the system.
A National Audit Office report found that, as of 2018, England and Wales consumed an average of 14 billion litres of water a day – but 20 percent of this, or around three billion litres, is lost to leaks in the system.
Thames Water, the UK’s largest provider, announced at the end of June it would invest an initial £500million into its infrastructure. Ofwat, the regulator, welcomed the funds, but noted the firm “still has many issues to address to meet the service and resilience levels we expect”.
Ms Bentley said today that fixing leaks “remains our top priority”, adding: “Our teams fix over 1,000 leaks a week – that’s one leak every 10 minutes.
“Thames Water will spend over £55million to further help reduce leakage and £200million replacing water mains, over the next three years.”