Cornwall issued with first hosepipe ban in almost 30 years

·4 min read
Bodmin, Cornwall - Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Bodmin, Cornwall - Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Cornwall is to come under its first hosepipe ban in 27 years, as a fifth water company joined the list of those enforcing restrictions.

South West Water, which has 1.7 million customers across Devon and Cornwall, announced on Monday that some would be prevented from using hosepipes to water their gardens.

The ban covers Cornwall and a small area of northwest Devon.

It means that at least eight million people are now under temporary use bans (TUB), as the measures are formally known, with Thames Water saying it is likely to add many of its 15 million customers to that list.

That would mean as much as a third of the population facing legal constraints on their water use.

Cornwall has not faced similar controls since 1995 when more than 14 million people across the UK were placed under TUBs.

Despite the county averaging more rainfall than everywhere in England outside the northwest, with more than 1,000mm each year compared to less than 700mm in London and East Anglia, the scale of the drought now means even traditionally wetter areas are facing restrictions.

Bodmin - Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Bodmin - Matt Cardy/Getty Images

The restrictions come despite Met Office warnings of thunderstorms across the UK until Wednesday evening.

The hard-baked ground will struggle to absorb sudden downpours, meaning the storms will provide little relief for the water table.

Conservationists have warned that Britain’s rivers are being pushed to the brink with the driest parts of the year still to come.

“There’s no doubt the conditions are brutal at the moment. We’re enormously worried,” Andy Thomas, a conservation officer at the Wild Trout Trust told The Telegraph.

“We’re not even into September yet and generally the low flows really don’t come until November in an average year. So we’re in for a shocking time.”

Low water levels and reduced flow speeds cause a number of cascading issues for river wildlife.

“Lower flows and slower rivers mean higher water temperatures, which places stress on aquatic life, you also have lower oxygen levels because warmer water holds less oxygen, the concentration of pollutants is higher because you have less water to dilute it, and the same with nutrient levels,” explained Charles Rangely-Wilson, an adviser to the Environment Agency on restoring chalk streams.

“That just puts a massive stress on the whole system and drives up the chance of algal blooms,” he said.

Devastating

Those brightly coloured eruptions can prove highly toxic to river wildlife.

As well as this, fish such as trout and salmon can get trapped in shrinking pools or “perched” rivers that no longer reach the sea. If they can’t reach their spawning grounds, they are unable to create the next generation of fish.

Evidence of the damage was already apparent on the River Wye, where dozens of dead salmon were spotted.

Martin Morgan, who runs a historic fishery, said he’d “never seen anything like it” on the Wye.

He said: “We’re seeing dead salmon everywhere. It’s devastating, it’s really highlighting what’s happening on the Wye, and this dry spell is compounding it.”

Mr Morgan accused the local water company of not releasing enough water from upstream dams.

Natural Resources Wales said it had previously released more water into the River Wye from the water bank in the Elan Valley but that some fish deaths were to be expected during a drought.

While the dry weather has strained rivers, the situation is made worse by water abstraction for human use said, conservationists.

During dry periods, and after water companies have imposed hosepipe bans, they can apply to use drought permits to remove water beyond what would usually be considered environmentally safe levels.

“It’s not as if they didn't know we were going to have these sort of years. It’s been forecast for decades that we’re going to get these much, much drier summers. They better start investing in better networks and winter storage,” said Mr Thomas.

Reducing abstraction, particularly in chalk streams, would make “all the difference in the world” said Mr Rangeley-Wilson.

England contains 85 per cent of the world’s chalk streams, with campaigners dubbing them the UK’s unique contribution to global ecology.