Energy

Drought conditions in Britain prompt water restrictions for millions in London

A man walks in Greenwich Park, London, on August 14, 2022. On August 17, Thames Water said a Temporary Use Ban covering London and the Thames Valley would begin next week.
Dominic Lipinski | PA Images | Getty Images

LONDON — Britain’s Thames Water said Wednesday that a Temporary Use Ban covering London and the Thames Valley would begin next week, citing “unprecedented weather conditions.”

The ban is set to come into effect from Aug. 24. “Domestic customers should not use hosepipes for cleaning cars, watering gardens or allotments, filling paddling pools and swimming pools and cleaning windows,” the utility said.

Explaining its decision, the company — one of several in England and Wales to have announced water usage limits in recent weeks — said extreme temperatures and this summer’s heatwave had resulted in the highest demand for water in more than 25 years.

“The driest July since 1885, the hottest temperatures on record, and the River Thames reaching its lowest level since 2005 have led to a drop in reservoir levels in the Thames Valley and London,” it said.

The TUB does not apply to businesses, although Thames Water said it was asking those within its area “to be mindful of the drought and to use water wisely.”

This could involve companies switching off water features on their premises and not washing their vehicles, it suggested.

“Implementing a Temporary Use Ban for our customers has been a very difficult decision to make and one which we have not taken lightly,” Sarah Bentley, the Thames Water CEO, said.

“After months of below average rainfall and the recent extreme temperatures in July and August, water resources in our region are depleted,” Bentley added.

The announcement of the ban comes at a time when many water companies are facing criticism related to leaks from their pipes. For its part, Thames Water said it had teams focused on locating and fixing more than 1,100 leaks per week.

When it comes to enforcement of the ban, the firm said it hoped and expected customers to continue using water wisely.

“If we become aware of customers ignoring the restrictions, we’ll contact them to make sure they’re aware of the rules and how to use water responsibly and wisely,” it added.

“There are criminal offences for those that repeatedly ignore requests to comply with the ban.”

Heat and drought

Last month saw temperatures in the U.K. surge, with highs of over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) recorded for the first time ever.

On Aug. 12, the U.K.’s Environment Agency announced that parts of England had moved into drought status.

“In drought affected areas the public and businesses should be very mindful of the pressures on water resources and should use water wisely,” authorities said.

They added that government expected water firms “to act to reduce leakage and fix leaking pipes as quickly as possible and take wider action alongside government policy.”

The U.K. is not alone when it comes to drought-related issues. On July 18, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre published a report looking at drought in Europe.

“The severe drought affecting several regions of Europe since the beginning of the year continues expanding and worsening,” it said.

“Dry conditions are related to a wide and persistent lack of precipitation combined with early heatwaves in May and June.”

In an interview with CNBC earlier this week, Bill Hare, CEO and senior scientist at research non-profit Climate Analytics, explained how the current conditions were having wide-ranging effects.

“On the water supply, it’s clear that in the U.K. and other parts of Europe, we’re seeing already very significant water stress that’s beginning to affect … ordinary urban residents, not just farmers,” he said.

“We’re seeing the lack of availability for cooling water for thermal, nuclear or coal power stations, which is causing curtailment of power,” Hare, who was speaking to CNBC’s Joumanna Bercetche, said.

“This is a problem we’re seeing all over the world,” he added. “We’re seeing, also, issues for example in Germany, now in the Danube region, with low water flow, meaning you can’t carry cargo anymore.”  

This was in turn, “having big implications not just for the transport of energy, but for agriculture, all manner of industrial commodities and so on.”

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