Households in Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and Pembrokeshire are facing water restrictions due to the UK’s extreme weather, including the recent heatwave and drought
Britain has just recorded its driest July since 1935.
South East Water introduces restrictions on households in Kent and Sussex from next Friday (12 August) and Welsh Water introduces a ban for Pembrokeshire from 19 August.
So what are garden hose bans – and how can you check if you’re going to get one in your area?
What is a hose ban?
When water becomes scarcer than usual, water providers can limit what we use water for.
They can tell when water is becoming scarce by monitoring the level of reservoirs or rivers.
During periods of prolonged drought, these levels can drop, forcing water companies to balance our water needs with those of the environment.
Hot weather can also lead to higher water use as people drink and shower more, fill swimming pools, or water their plants more regularly—all of which put extra stress on the system.
For example, Yorkshire Water said it had to pump 200 million liters more water than usual when high temperatures were recorded on July 11 – equivalent to Leeds’ daily needs.
Under the Floods and Water Management Act 2010, water utilities have the legal power to restrict the use of water.
Anyone flouting these rules could be prosecuted in criminal court and fined up to £1,000 – although water companies say they prefer “education to enforcement”.
Southern Water has even asked its customers to report anyone not following the rules to its customer service team.
Prior to the announcement of the Southern Water hose ban, the last water restrictions in the UK were imposed during the 2018 summer heatwave.
Seven million households in North West England and Northern Ireland have been forced to temporarily do away with their water hoses.
Scotland very rarely has to introduce such restrictions.
In the last 50 years, hose bans have only been imposed twice in the country – in the summers of 1976 and 1995.
What restrictions does a hose line ban entail?
Hoseline bans can be introduced when water companies believe their area is experiencing a drought, ie a prolonged dry spell that has impacted water supplies for agriculture, the environment and human consumption.
In these circumstances, you cannot use hoses or sprinklers to:
- Watering a garden (including public parks, athletic fields, and allotments)
- Clean a motor vehicle
- Fill or top up a pond or paddling pool (you can’t fill a paddling pool any other way either)
- Clean windows, paths or patios
If the drought becomes “severe”, commercial buildings may be restricted in their use of water.
For example, they cannot water plants outdoors.
And when it comes to the stage where a public emergency is declared, household water use can be rationed to the point where they have to fill up bottles at community hubs and only have to flush the toilet a few times a day.
When is the Southern Water hosepipe ban of 2022?
Southern Water introduced a hose ban for its customers in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight on Friday (5 August).
It said the restrictions are aimed at protecting habitats in the River Itchen and River Test, which pass through Winchester and Southampton respectively.
dr Alison Hoyle, director of risk and compliance at Southern Water, said the move had been carefully considered by the water company but was seen as a “responsible move” given below-average river flows.
Both flows are 25% lower than they should be for the time of year, with Dr. Hoyle said the hosepipe ban would allow those levels to recover.
It is the first hose ban in the region since 2012.
Who is affected by the 2022 South East Water hose ban?
South East Water announced its own restrictions on Wednesday (3 August).
From midnight on Friday 12 August, a hose ban will apply to households in Kent and East Sussex until further notice.
In a statement on its website, South East Water said it was forced to take action after the south east had just 8% of the rainfall it normally receives in July, with dry conditions expected to continue through August and September.
“This has been a period of extreme weather conditions across the UK,” the statement said.
“Demand for water this summer broke all previous records including the Covid lockdown heatwave.
“We produce an additional 120 million liters of water per day to supply our customers, which is equivalent to the daily supply of four other cities the size of Maidstone or Eastbourne.”
The company added that local water sources are “already stressed” and that it wants to ensure it can maintain supplies for “essential purposes and to protect the environment.”
According to the Met Office, the south-east and south-central England recorded just 5mm of rain in July – the driest July for the regions since official records began in 1836.
Where will Welsh Water’s hosepipe ban apply?
Welsh Water was the third company to announce restrictions on hose lines.
From Friday August 19, the ban applies to Pembrokeshire and some adjacent parts of Carmarthenshire in south-west Wales, including Pendine and Laugharne.
The nonprofit said it was already having to tank water from the area and also had to increase the number of teams looking for leaks in pipes.
Are other hose bans likely in the UK?
On July 26, the Environment Agency convened the National Drought Task Force to discuss water supplies, an indication that further restrictions may be coming.
The group is made up of senior officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), water companies, the National Farmers’ Union and several other rural bodies.
According to a reading of the meeting, the group agreed to protect resources and would bring in “ever closer cooperation” in monitoring and managing water supplies.
Whilst the UK is not officially in a drought, most of England is classified as being in a ‘prolonged dry weather’ condition – the category below an official drought.
River currents, groundwater and reservoir levels are well below average in England for this time of year, with only the North West currently considered acceptable.
As a result, the Environment Agency said it had gone into the initial stages of its drought plan with water companies.
Alongside new restrictions in the Southern Water and South East Water areas, the Environment Agency has applied for a drought injunction for West Yorkshire’s Holme Styes Reservoir.
Yorkshire Water has announced its reservoirs were 62% full by mid-July – 18% below the average for the time of year.
Several other water companies, notably in southern England, have already made informal calls for the public to reduce their water consumption.
During the heatwave, several customers warned they could see low water pressure and changes in the taste of their water.
These problems are demand-related rather than supply-related, they said.
Water industry association Water UK has also urged people to make “small changes” to secure supplies.
It suggests measures such as turning off the taps when brushing your teeth, using watering cans instead of garden hoses, and tanning the lawn.
“As we continue to see extremely high demand, we are urging everyone to carefully consider the amount they are using given the unprecedented conditions,” said Stuart Colville, Water UK’s Director of Policy.
How can you check if there is a hose ban?
You can ask your water supplier whether there is a hose line ban in your area.
Because water companies only operate in certain areas, you cannot switch providers.