Hosepipe bans could be brought in with Kent facing drought in August if the hot and dry weather continues, as parts of the county remain without water supplies.
England is not in widespread drought but most of the country has moved into a state of “prolonged dry weather”, the step before drought is declared.
Officials from the Environment Department (Defra) and agencies including the Environment Agency are meeting with water companies and other groups including the National Farmers’ Union today (Tuesday, July 26) to discuss how to protect water supplies.
Much of the country already has low river flows, affecting the quality and quantity of water, with impacts on farmers and other water users, as well as wildlife.
Low groundwater levels, dry soils and low reservoirs have also been seen following months of below average rainfall, and last week’s record-breaking heatwave put extra pressure on water resources.
Southern Water has applied for a drought permit in Hampshire, amid falling water levels, which could see it bring in hosepipe bans – now known as “temporary use bans”.
There are currently no restrictions in place in England but water companies are already urging people to save water in the face of the hot, dry weather – and localised bans are possible.
For farmers, August and September will be critical and there is an increasing risk of restriction in irrigation in localised areas.
The last time drought was declared was in 2018.
Forecasts are relatively uncertain after the settled weather this week, but Met Office forecaster Craig Snell said the trend appeared to be for drier weather in the South and wetter conditions in the North.
“The trend is the South will see the balance of the drier weather and the North will see the balance of the wetter weather, which is kind of what you would expect at this time of year.
“Even as you go to the middle part of August, on balance more persistent spells of rain will be across the North West, with the South seeing any rainfall in the form of showers or thunderstorms.”
"We have considered imposing a temporary hosepipe ban to reduce water use..."
One water company says it has thought about banning hosepipes – but has opted for advising people not to use them instead.
A South East Water spokesman said: "We have considered imposing a temporary hosepipe ban to reduce water use, however the implementation process takes time and our focus remains on keeping customers’ taps flowing after a period of extremely high demand for water.
“By asking our customers to voluntarily stop using hosepipes we expect it to have the same effect, resulting in there being enough drinking water for all our customers’ essential use.
“We are monitoring supply and demand in our network every day, and will review this decision should factors change.”
Southern Water has been approached for comment.
Meanwhile, problems with water supplies in Kent continue this week, with hundreds of homes left without water today (Tuesday, July 26) after a main burst in Broad Oak Road in Canterbury this morning.
Long-suffering residents of the villages of Challock and Molash, between Ashford and Faversham, are among the hardest hit.
The taps ran dry 10 days ago and an emergency water station was set up.
The continuous hot weather and significantly increased demand was blamed but, despite numerous pledges to restore supplies, problems persist.
Last night, South East Water apologised to people in the area with "intermittent" supply. It said, "as a precaution", bottled water could still be collected from Challock Village Hall.
A series of burst pipes hit supplies in Coxheath, Loose, Ulcombe, Headcorn and surrounding areas over the weekend. Bottles were still being dished out at Coxheath Village Hall today.
South East Water said: "Once again, we are extremely sorry for the disruption this has caused the local community over the past few days."
Last week, people in the East Peckham area criticised South East Water after going without supplies for several days.
They questioned how dishing out bottled water helped with the worst impact of taps running dry, such as washing up or flushing toilets.
One resident said: "Instead of scratching the surface of the current issue South East Water should go deeper.
"We are almost now in a drought situation with no rain forecasted here for 10 more days."
Other areas impacted by supply issues last week include Seven Mile Lane, Wateringbury, Bow Hill, West Peckham, Yalding, Paddock Wood, Hadlow, Borough Green, West Kingsdown and Trottiscliffe.
Earlier this month, Sheppey residents were left without water for days and schools and public buildings were forced to close after a burst main.
Swale council declared a major incident after homes and businesses were left with no running water amid the heatwave.