Hosepipe ban talk premature says sector

Alton Garden Centre director Andy Bunker appeared on BBC Radio Five on 9 May to say there should be "no knee jerk" reaction by water companies to low rainfall in April.

While newspapers and radio have been suggesting there might be the first ban since 2012 after the dry winter and spring, Anglian Water says water levels in the east of England are "good" and there will be no need for a hosepipe ban this summer.

Bunker said: "I'm not in the least bit worried. The good thing is it has not been warm and dry or windy and dry, it's been cold and when plants aren't growing much they don't need much water. It's forecast for rain from Thursday to Sunday but if we don't get any rain in the next two weeks, then I'll get more concerned."

He said some regions were drier than others, with the Home Counties driest. Bunker says the cold weather has knocked summer bedding sales in the first third of May and growers are not busy. He said a couple of good weeks in May would be the "icing on the cake" after a good March and April, and that volume would come when "the occasional gardener who gardens in shirt sleeves" would come out when the weather warms up.

A spokeswoman for Wessex Water said: "Rainfall in our region has been below average but we’re not expecting any supply difficulties this summer. While we won’t need to impose any restriction we always urge our customers to use water usefully."

The Environment Agency said: "Following a dry winter, some rivers, groundwaters and reservoirs are lower than normal for the time of year.

"We always advise that everyone uses water wisely – especially during a period of dry weather – and to follow the advice of their water company should water-saving measures be required.

"The Environment Agency, water companies, businesses and farmers are working together to minimise any potential impacts to people and the environment should the dry weather continue."

October to March has been the driest for more than 20 years. Met Office statistics show last month was the tenth driest April since records began in 1910, with 48% of average rainfall at 34mm.

Farmers have reported some crops are starting to suffer from the lack of rain.

NFU vice president Guy Smith said: "The situation is patchy with farmers, particularly in the South and East, reporting as low as 10% of their expected March and April rainfall.

"While decent rains in May and June will put many crops back on track, some crops like spring barley have clearly already lost their full potential."

He added: "We are growing increasingly concerned about the fruit and vegetable sector' although water sources are still available, "albeit at lower that normal levels".

Although it is forecast to get wetter towards the middle of the month, dry conditions are expected to return by the end of May.

Southern Water says: "Despite the dry winter, we don't believe we will need to take measures, such as introducing Temporary Use Bans, previously known as hosepipe bans, in our water supply areas this spring and summer.

"We're continuing to monitor the situation closely, with clear plans in place to make sure we're fully prepared, should the relatively dry weather continue in the months ahead."

A spokesman for Affinity Water said: "Since July 2016, our region has received just over half of the normal rainfall that we would usually expect.

"Due to the low rainfall, many rivers across the South East of England have seen flows decrease.

"Our ground water sources have also been affected by the low rainfall, which is where 60% of the water we supply to our customers comes from.

"We are encouraging our customers to save water to help preserve supplies and minimise the possibility of restrictions this summer."

The last time there was a hosepipe ban was in 2012, and warnings before the ban came in during late May from water companies not to water gardens damaged garden centre sales, with plant sales down about 20%. Anglian Water, Southern Water, Thames Water, South East Water, Sutton and East Surrey Water and Veolia Central and Veolia South East were the companies that brought in the short-lived hosepipe bans in 2012.

Former HTA director Tim Briercliffe says he would be surprised if there is a hose pipe ban "as normally there needs to be at least two very dry winters before this happens although some smaller water companies do work on shorter-term water collection".

Industry group Water UK says: "Recent months have been relatively dry and therefore some water resources' levels are lower than normal for this time of year. The Environment Agency and water companies will continue to work together to minimise any potential impacts to people and the environment should the dry weather continue. We always advise that everyone use water wisely but there are not currently any plans for water restrictions to be placed this summer."

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