Drought measures in the pipeline

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REALITY over water shortages in the Rye and Battle area is about to bite with the two main suppliers, Southern Water and South East Water, announcing a hosepipe ban from April 5.

It follows the county’s driest 12 months on record, which have left reservoir levels desperately low and caused concern that summer may bring shortages. Some 20 million people in the south-east and east of England could be affected.

For the first time, the watering of public parks and allotments will be restricted and even tougher rules may follow without significant rainfall soon.

It could spell bad news for popular charity events such as open garden schemes.

According to the Environment Agency, some parts of the south east have just seen the second driest 12 months on record and the region is now in drought.

Nine of the past 16 months have seen below average rainfall and from October to January the south east received, on average only 73 per cent of normal rainfall needed to fill reservoirs, rivers and underground sources ready for use in the summer.

Southern Water strategy manager, Meyrick Gough, said: “These measures are being brought in following an exceptionally dry 12 months. Thanks to improvements made to our supply network, which enables us to move water from areas with a surplus to those with a shortage, our lowest ever leakage level, the ongoing installation of 500,000 water meters and customers being more water efficient, we are in a better position than we would have been in these circumstances in previous years.

“But, as the weather gets warmer, the demand will rise. Therefore to safeguard supplies throughout the summer we need to restrict the amount of water used in gardens.”

Gardening watering is usually about six per cent of that supplied but on a hot day this can increase to 70 per cent. A garden sprinkler alone uses more than 1,000 litres of water an hour, which is enough to supply six people for a whole day.

Full details of restrictions are available by visiting www.southernwater.co.uk.

The Environment Agency said fruit, vegetable and salad crops could be affected by the drought and less water would be available for livestock, especially housed pigs and poultry. This could push up food prices.

Wildlife could suffer, pollution may rise and dry conditions could raise the risk of fires.

Rother District Council head of amenities Kim Ross said: “Throughout Rother we already adopt several water-saving techniques in our parks and gardens.

“These include using water-retaining crystals in flower beds, watering in the early hours, using bark mulch on new planting areas and choosing plants appropriate for the ground conditions.

“The council also has many water-saving techniques in its offices, including using water coolers and hot water dispensers instead of kettles.”

Meurig Raymond, deputy president of the National Farmers’ Union, broadly welcomed measures being taken to lessen the impact of potential water shortages.