Hosepipe ban extended to new parts of Devon ahead of summer water supply fears

A hosepipe ban is to be extended to further parts of Devon, with most of the South West remaining in official drought status from last summer.

Cornwall, Devon and the Isles of Scilly have been under official drought status since August 2022, as declared by the Environment Agency, a temporary use ban in place since then for Cornwall and parts of North Devon.   

South West Water (SWW) has now warned customers that from 25 April, it will be extending its temporary use ban to the Roadford area, in West Devon.

This comes after lower than average rainfall was experienced in the region last year and throughout the start of 2023, which saw the driest February in 30 years for England.

According to SWW, reservoir levels at  Roadford Lake in West Devon are nearly one third lower than during the same period in 2022. This deficit is equivalent to 3,800 Olympic-sized swimming pools, according to the water company.

In March this year, The Cornish Times reported that the storage level for all the reservoirs owned by South West Water stood at just over 70% of capacity, compared to just over 90% the year before.

Activities covered by the temporary usage ban include using hose pipes to water gardens or clean cars. 

Janina Gray, deputy chief executive at WildFish, said: “The news from South West Water is disappointing but not surprising. More transparency from the company about how they plan to deal with the problem is essential.

"Taking more water from rivers is not a sustainable solution nor the answer to their problems.”

David Harris, SWW’s drought and resilience director, said: “We continue to explore all options and take all necessary steps to ensure we protect supplies and the environment, bringing new supplies safely online, finding and fixing three times more leaks than last year and helping customers and businesses reduce their water usage.

“However, despite our interventions and investments, and the fantastic efforts of our customers, the region’s water resources are under immense and increasing pressure. Introducing a hosepipe ban is the responsible thing for us to do and going into the summer period is the right time to do it.”

Speaking at the 2023 Waterwise conference last month, John Leyland, executive director for environment and business at the Environment Agency (EA), and recently appointed chair of the National Drought Group, warned that “exceptional is becoming the normal” when it comes to weather.

He said: “Climate change and population growth will mean that we will run out of water unless we change faster than the environment.

A DEFRA spokesperson said: “We continue to work closely with regulators and water companies, including South West Water, to monitor the risk of prolonged periods of dry weather and drought, and take any precautionary steps necessary to maintain a resilient water supply across the country.”

DEFRA said it is taking action to speed up water supply infrastructure projects to create long term drought resilience, and as part of that is encouraging water companies to adapt to changing weather patterns and tackle leakage, as mentioned in its recently published Plan for Water.

According to SWW, the company has doubled its number of leak detection officers in the last two years, who find and fix up to 2,500 leaks a month using satellite technology and leak detection dogs.