Parts of England are facing a hosepipe ban as another heatwave and very dry conditions are predicted for the south-east.
From Friday, Southern Water is implementing the ban for customers in Hampshire and on the Isle of Wight, while the measure will follow in exactly a week for South East Water customers in Kent and Sussex.
Rivers are at exceptionally low levels, reservoirs are depleted and soils dried out after months of little rainfall, combined with record-breaking temperatures in July.
All of this has put pressure on the environment, farming and water supplies, and is fuelling wildfires.
The Met Office has warned there is “very little meaningful rain” coming for parched areas of England as temperatures are set to climb into the 30ºCs next week.
While it could mean another heatwave, when there are above-average temperatures for three days or more, it is likely that conditions will stay well below the 40ºC in some places last month.
The situation has prompted calls for action to reduce water use to protect the environment and supplies, and restore the country’s lost wetlands “on an enormous scale” to tackle a future of more dry summers and droughts.
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Southern Water said it was asking customers “to limit your use to reduce the risk of further restrictions and disruption to water supplies, but more importantly to protect our local rivers”.
South East Water said it had been “left with no choice but to restrict the use of hosepipes and sprinklers” from midnight on August 12 in Kent and Sussex “until further notice”.
It said it was trying to “ensure we have enough water for both essential use and to protect the environment”, and to enable a reduction in the amount of water “we need to take from already stressed local water sources”.
Other water companies have so far held off bringing in restrictions despite low water levels, although some say they may need to implement bans if the dry weather continues.
Householders who have not yet been hit by restrictions are being urged to avoid using hosepipes for watering the garden or cleaning the car.
Thames Water’s desalination plant, at Beckton, East London, is out of service.
It was built to deliver up to 100 million litres of water a day in long periods of dry weather.
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Parts of England have had the driest July in records dating back to 1836, after the driest eight-month period from November 2021 for the country since 1976.
There are indications of a return to more changeable weather conditions from about mid-August, the Met Office said.
Nature campaigners have criticised water companies for leaving it to “the last possible moment” to bring in restrictions, when rivers are in a “desperate” state, and for last-minute announcements that spur an increase in water demand before hosepipe bans come in.
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"Every year we get to this perilous position and at the last possible moment, when the rivers are at their lowest, we get discussion of temporary use bans," said Mark Lloyd, chief executive of The Rivers Trust.
“Announcing it at the last minute causes people to rush to wash their cars and fill their paddling pools, wash the dog, and causes an increase in demand before the ban comes in.
“This should happen before the rivers come to a desperate condition and there’s not enough water for wildlife.”
The Rivers Trust is calling for accelerated metering, rapid reduction in leak waste, support for households to reduce water use, such as installing low flow toilets and water butts, and sustainable drainage including rain gardens, wetlands and permeable paving to build up local stores of water underground.