People in Northamptonshire could see the first hosepipe ban in more than 35 years introduced this summer.
Features editor Joni Ager looks at the potential consequences of the drought conditions.
After months of below-average rainfall, Anglian Water has finally conceded that a hosepipe ban this summer is now looking “very likely”.
The region got only got about 42cm of rain last year – two thirds of what would normally be expected – and Pitsford reservoir is just 60 per cent full, which is 20 per cent below where it should be for the time of year.
We may have seen a wet couple of days this week, but a few days of heavy rain will do little to offset the impact of months of dry weather.
Ciaran Nelson, of Anglian Water, said: “We’re dealing with the impact of two consecutive dry winters, with the months in between also suffering from below average rainfall. To recover from a situation like this will take months of persistent rain.
“A few wet days, while welcome, won’t do much to change the underlying situation.”
The last dry spell to trigger a hosepipe ban in the region saw 34 months of below-average rainfall between 1988 and 1991.
At the time, this was the longest continuous period of dry weather since 1899.
More than one million people were affected by the ban which began on August 10, 1990, and lasted 448 days. The last hosepipe ban in Northamptonshire was back in 1976, during one of the longest heatwaves in living memory.
Anglian Water has not imposed a hosepipe ban since 1991 and the company invested £25m in water resilience schemes, such as drilling 37 new boreholes, improving 17 water treatment works and 19 pumping stations, and laying more than 60 miles of new trunk mains, to keep it that way.
But with the region again experiencing a drought, the company is pumping more water into Northamptonshire from Cambridgeshire and plans to build two new booster pumping stations, one in Wellingborough and one in Bedfordshire.
However, this may not be enough to avoid a domestic hosepipe ban.
So what impact would a hosepipe ban have?
Among those most affected will be gardeners and garden centres.
Nicholas Warliker, who is the Evening Telegraph’s gardening columnist and is an advisor at Podington Garden Centre, said: “It is going to have a double whammy effect. We used to have an overhead spray line but now we use capillary matting [which sucks up water and spreads it over an even surface]. Technically speaking it’s not as easy to operate for the plants and you still have to go over the plants with spray lines.
“Garden centres will have to catch drain water and recycle it. We have already been talking about that and are thinking of building a massive tank to catch our waste water to recycle it.
“The other side of it is it might have a serious effect on people who are currently purchasing plants. Naturally if plants going into the garden can’t be watered people won’t be buying them. People will need to be trained in the economical use of water.”
Also affected will be car washes, particularly the hand car wash businesses which have seen a surge in popularity in recent years.
John Gumbrecht, owner of California Car Wash in Kettering and a member of the Car Wash Association, said: “We don’t really know what impact it will have.
“In 1976 there were terrible drought conditions and all car washes were switched off. In those days there was no such thing as water recycling.
“Cars were driving around dirty and the only parts of your car you were allowed to wash were the number plates and the windscreen.
“I was a car wash engineer and I used to go round the country servicing car washes. I was at a conveyor car wash in Oldham when the owner was talking to a water authority man. He gave him a notice to switch off and he stayed switched off for three months. He went broke.
“When the next drought came around everyone learned their lessons and bought water recycling plants.
“This time the Car Wash Association is suggesting that if you use less than five gallons of water per wash you can stay open. At the moment we probably use about 10 gallons per wash and we recycle water but we could get ours down to 3.5 gallons.
“But the hand car washes you see everywhere don’t recycle water and they probably use about 20 to 30 gallons per car. They could be shut.”
With any hosepipe ban comes the issue of enforcing it.
In 1976, when families queued at standpipes and Britain’s first drought minister was appointed, ‘water police’ patrolled the streets ensuring the valuable resource wasn’t wasted.
So would people abide by a ban?
Jodie Rendell, of Burton Latimer, said: “We all pay for our water. It’s not our fault we had a dry winter and didn’t collect enough water. If my kids want the paddling pool filled up, they will have it filled up.”
Courtney Jayne Porter, of Corby, agrees. She said: “Hosepipe ban or not, people will use their hose if they want to water their plants or fill up the kids’ pool. They won’t exactly lock you up for using a hose!
“At the end of the day you pay for the water you use.”
And Richard Sutherland, of Kettering, said: “Until they fix the leaks I’ll use what I paid for and that’s as much water as I need.”