Up to 20 million homes face hosepipe bans by the end of the month after seven water companies today announced restrictions that could last throughout the summer in a bid to stave off a worsening drought.
Water companies across southern and eastern England are bringing are introducing water restrictions as a result of two unusually dry winters which have left reservoirs, aquifers and rivers well below normal levels.
Southern Water, South East Water, Thames Water, Anglian Water, Sutton and East Surrey, Veolia Central and Veolia South East are all bringing in restrictions on water use in the drought-stricken South East and East Anglia regions.
Last month the water companies warned that hosepipe bans were on the cards, as the Environment Department (Defra) declared the South East had joined most of East Anglia in a state of drought.
Shortly afterwards, the rest of the Anglian region went into drought.
Southern Water said it was bringing in a ban on hosepipes and sprinklers for domestic customers in Kent and Sussex from April 5 for the first time since 2005/2006, following the second driest 12 months on record in the region.
The use of hosepipes and sprinklers will also be banned for watering public parks and allotments, as well as for filling swimming pools, paddling pools, ponds and fountains.
The company's water strategy manager, Meyrick Gough, said: "These measures are being brought in following an exceptionally dry 12 months.
"Thanks to improvements made to our supply network, which enables us to move water from areas with a surplus to those with a shortage, our lowest ever leakage level, the ongoing installation of 500,000 water meters and customers being more water efficient, we are in a better position than we would have been in these circumstances in previous years.
"But, as the weather gets warmer, the demand for water will rise and therefore, to safeguard supplies throughout the summer we need to restrict the amount of water used in gardens."
Bewl reservoir in Kent, which supplies Southern Water customers, is only two-fifths full, and the company was given a drought permit last month to help refill it.
As a result of higher rainfall in the western part of the company's region, there are currently no plans for restrictions in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said: "These temporary restrictions will help protect the public's water supply in the areas most affected by the record low levels of rainfall we have experienced over the last 17 months.
"We can all help reduce the effects of drought by respecting these restrictions and being smarter about how we use water.
"Taking action now to reduce how much water we use will help us all in the future."