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Prepare for a drought ?

South East Water, together with water companies in the South East of England today reassured Secretary of State Caroline Spelman that essential public water supplies will be maintained throughout the summer.

In a joint statement Thames Water, Veolia Water Central, Veolia Water Southeast, Southern Water, South East Water, Sutton and East Surrey Water and Portsmouth Water said they all had drought plans in place.

This was in response to the Secretary of State’s declaration today that a drought is affecting the South East region following significantly low rainfall for a second consecutive winter. A drought in the Anglian region was declared last autumn. During the past four months from October to January, the South East has received on average 73 per cent of the rainfall it would normally expect. It has been the driest October to January period since 1992. Together with dry weather in the preceding 12 months, this means that, since October 2010, the region has received only 80% of average rainfall – a huge cumulative shortfall.

The Company is also concerned its underground aquifers, which provide 75% of all customers’ water supplies, are still showing no real signs of re-filling, while some are approaching seriously low levels.

The majority of water, 75%, in South East Water’s area comes from groundwater- based sources and these resources depend upon winter rainfall to replenish aquifers. Two consecutive dry winters have led to groundwater levels dropping to very low levels. Some of them, according to the Environment Agency, are at record levels for January.

River flows are also well below average and South East Water has experienced difficulty refilling reservoirs during the winter period. This led to the Company applying for a Drought Order last year for the River Ouse to help refill Ardingly Reservoir. This was granted in December 2011. Its two Sussex reservoirs Ardingly and Arlington are currently at around 45% and 82% full respectively. Arlington is expected to be full over the next couple of months, Ardingly may yet reach 100% full, but the Company is planning prudently on the basis that the rainfall does not arrive and the reservoir does not reach 100% full by the end of April 2012.

Lee Dance, Head of Water Resources and Environmental at South East Water, said: “In the absence of any prolonged periods of rainfall to bring all our water resources back to normal for this time of year, we are having to plan prudently for restricting customers’ non-essential use of water by banning the use of sprinklers and hosepipes.

“While we are not running out of water, if the situation does not dramatically improve within the next few weeks, we will need to put in place the drought measures set out in our drought plan.

“Those restrictions may need to come into force as early as the Spring, in order to protect public water supplies for the absolute essentials – drinking, washing and cooking.

“Clearly, if we suddenly get a steady deluge of rain over the next few weeks, we may be able to defer having to make this decision. That’s why we continue to closely monitor the situation and, in the meantime, make sure we are well prepared as we can be.”

That includes increasing efforts to find and fix leaks, carrying out maintenance at its water treatment works to ensure they work as efficiently as possible, and re-routing water around its network of pipes from areas where more water is available.

Lee Dance added: “Our customers are continuing to play their part and we are greatly encouraged by the fantastic response we’ve had to our public appeals to use water wisely, and not waste it, and helping us by reporting any leaks they spot.

“We would encourage our customers to think about preparing for possible water use restrictions by installing water butts now, to collect any rain that does fall, and make sure any dripping taps are fixed.”

Article posted on: 20 February 2012

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