The hosepipe ban & UK water shortages: what does it mean for you?

Updated on 19 July 2018 | 5 Comments

As the first hosepipe ban in England since 2012 comes into effect, we look at easy ways to save water and outline exactly what you can and can't do

It’s the hottest summer since the 1976 drought and it could go on to be the hottest on record, according to the Met Office. It has also been the driest start to summer in modern records, which date back to 1961, with just 47mm of rain so far this summer.

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As a result, reservoirs are running low in some areas of the country and the first hosepipe ban since the most recent drought of 2012 is due to be enforced next month. It will affect 7 million people in the North West of England – across Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Lancashire and Cheshire.

UK drought in 1976
A public information warning from the severe UK-wide drought in 1976. Image: Frank Barratt/Keystone/Getty Images

In 1976 a hosepipe ban was imposed too. Back then it was enforced by patrols which toured the streets. Thousands of homes in Yorkshire and East Anglia had their water supply replaced by communal standpipes in the street. The Government even appointed a minister for drought. In 2012 seven water authorities in parts of southern and eastern England imposed hosepipe bans due to water shortages.

Are we on the brink of drought?

Last week it was reported that water was being moved from reservoir to reservoir, in a bid to bump up water supplies in the driest parts of the country.

United Utilities announced a hosepipe ban – starting from August 5 – to conserve supplies and ensure that people are using water wisely. Anyone breaching this will face a criminal prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000.

Thames Water has warned there is no guarantee that London will not face similar restrictions.

South East Water, which supplies water to households in Kent, Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire, has asked for its customers to use less water in their homes if possible.

Why is there a hosepipe ban?

“In the UK, we have water – quite literally – on tap, meaning a lot of people just don’t think about the risk of it running out," says Junaid Patel, chartered environmental engineer and founder of Freeflush Rainwater Harvesting.

"It takes something like a heatwave and hosepipe ban for people to suddenly realise we all need to change our behaviours and attitudes towards our water usage. Our water supplies are already overstretched, and as we see the impact of global warming and a growing population increase we all need to do our bit to help." 

  • A hosepipe uses 540 litres an hour, as much as a family of four would use in one day
  • A sprinkler left running overnight uses as much water as a family of four would use in one week
  • A hosepipe ban can reduce water usage by 5-10%

By banning the use of hosepipes the water companies can rule out these huge drains on the reserve, without jeopardising basic usage requirements for drinking and washing.

What is a hosepipe ban, exactly?

The ban restricts the use of hosepipes or sprinklers for watering private gardens and washing private cars.

It aims to conserve water for the essentials like drinking, washing and cooking.

It rules out cleaning a private car, van, motorbike, trailer, caravan or leisure boat using a hosepipe, filling or maintaining a domestic swimming pool, paddling pool or ornamental fountain as well as cleaning windows using a hosepipe.

You can still wash any of these things, but you can’t do it with a hosepipe – a bucket and cloth will have to suffice.

Those with their own water supply such as a private borehole can still use as much water as they choose.

Is there a UK water shortage?

At the moment there is no official UK drought. Just two weeks ago the Environment Agency reported that the overall water resources situation across England is looking “generally healthy”. 

Paul Hickey, head of water resources at the Environment Agency, said: “Over two very dry months, we have seen a rapid decline in reservoir levels in the North West and we support the announcement by United Utilities to manage water supplies by introducing household restrictions.

Rainfall map of England - Compare the rainfall in July 2017 to June 2018 to see how dry this summer has been
A rainfall map of England - Compare the rainfall in July 2017 to June 2018 to see how dry this summer has been. Image from the Environment Agency

“Across the rest of England, most groundwater supplies are at healthy levels and water companies have enough water to maintain supplies if resources are managed properly.

“We are meeting with affected groups including farmers to provide practical advice about conserving water and planning for prolonged dry weather. We encourage everyone to use water wisely to conserve supplies and protect the environment.”

When there’s a water shortage in the UK, water boards can pump extra litres into the network to meet demand. This water will come from rivers or groundwater from boreholes or wells.

Northern Ireland introduced a hosepipe ban in June in response to a 30% spike in demand for water during the scorching summer. The three-week ban is being lifted today (July 19).

How to save water at home

Spend one minute less in the shower – If each member of a family of four spent one minute less in the shower they could save approximately 36 litres of water a day.

Use a washing up bowl – Instead of letting the tap run for longer than it needs to, use a washing up bowl – you can reduce wasted water by up to 50%! Even better, use your dishwasher, you’ll save yourself a job and often they use less water than washing dishes by hand – remember to do a full load each time.

Turn off the tap – Turning off the tap while brushing your teeth saves a massive six litres of water per minute! For a family of four that could be up to 48 litres a day.

Boil only what you need – People often overfill the kettle when they make a cuppa, think about it next time you make one just for yourself, and make your mantra: 'boil only what you need'.

Water out of hours – Water your garden in the early morning or late evening, when less water is lost through evaporation.

Reusing water from the home in the garden

Water butts - Image by Chrislofotos / Shutterstock

Think about ways you can reuse any water from the home in the garden. Plants can be watered with bath, shower and kitchen water. Soil and potting compost are effective at filtering out contaminants including soaps and detergents, so there's no need to worry about using it on your plants.

Buy a water butt – A water butt collects the rain (when it finally arrives) from your roof, so you can give your plants a drink without drawing on public reserves. Prices start at around £25 and you and get a range of designs from slimline tanks for small spaces to water butts that look like Grecian urns.

Invest in a rainwater harvesting system – A basic system consists of a filter, tank and pump allowing rainwater to be filtered, stored and reused for non-drinking water applications. They can reduce up to 45% per cent of water usage in the home. Aim for a unit that can fill about three 6l watering cans every day for at least a week, so between 140 and 280 litres of storage capacity.

The diverter is also important –  perhaps more so than the storage capacity of the tank. Choose a diverter with the highest flow capacity as this dictates how much water you capture during a downpour. The proportion of the rainfall captured during any storm event is referred to as yield. High yielding diverters are best for short storm events following dry periods.  

Fit a bathwater diverter – You can reuse bathwater and shower run-off in your garden by fitting a clever device that diverts this grey water into a tank – minus the toilet water, which goes down the drain. The bathwater diverter from Water Two is £29.99 and comes with a full kit in four colours, grey, white, black and green.

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