Water UK seeks stricter rules for hosepipe bans

The water industry has set out an extreme view of how it would like hosepipe bans to work in times of drought. In response to a government consultation, it argues that all swimming and paddling pools should close, and the watering of public gardens halted.

Responding to an Environment Department (DEFRA) consultation on hosepipe ban legislation, the water industry association Water UK has called for the inclusion hard-hitting measures because of the “lack of clarity and unfairness” of the current rules.

Hosepipe bans, to be known as “discretionary use bans”, can be imposed by water firms in times of drought to conserve water supplies and protect rivers. In March DEFRA announced its intention to revise the rules (ENDS Report 387, pp 50-51 ).

Among the measures that Water UK would like included are bans on using pipes to top up public swimming pools and to water public or private flower beds and gardens, including tubs and hanging baskets. Pipes would also be banned for filling paddling pools, maintaining public fountains even where they recycle water, washing taxis and minicabs as well as private cars – which are already covered by current hosepipe bans – and for suppressing dust.

The proposals would mean that all public swimming baths must close as soon as a hosepipe ban is imposed, and public flower displays would wither.

The consultation also included proposals to modify drought orders. These may be granted by the Secretary of State on the application of water firms and generally represent a second tier of more stringent restrictions. Drought orders may affect commercial and public sector water users and exempt the water firm from having to pay compensation for failure to supply.

Water UK would like to see many measures that are currently only available through drought orders transferred to discretionary use bans. For swimming baths and gardens, for example, it would like water use to be covered by discretionary use bans regardless of whether they are in public or private ownership.

“This would help to ensure an even-handed approach based on how water is used rather than who is using it,” Water UK says. “Drought order powers should be reserved for activities with potential adverse consequences for health and safety or economic activity or livelihoods.”

However, Water UK’s proposals might increase the severity of restrictions to a degree that would make hosepipe bans excessively restrictive and unpopular with the public. Discretionary outdoor uses of water only account for about 5% of demand, although this proportion is highest during the dry summer months.

Water UK policy advisor Bruce Horton denied that the industry was trying to ramp up discretionary use bans. The association’s stance was intended to address “the lack of clarity and unfairness” of the present system and the ease of enforcement of the regulations, he said.

Commenting on Water UK’s position, director of the NGO Waterwise Jacob Tomkins said: “I think it’s a bit counterproductive, potentially. I have sympathy with water companies but they will not be winning hearts and minds by banning swimming pools and paddling pools.”

“We want different levels of restrictions like they have in Australia, and for them to be declared at a regional level by government rather than by water companies,” he added.

Mr Allen Brobyn, managing director of the British Swimming Pools Association said that Water UK’s proposals would force pools to close and new pools could not be built because they could not be filled.

“It is a great fiction that swimming pools use a lot of water,” he said. “They don’t, but they do contain a lot of water.”

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