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Hosepipe bans – are you sceptical or will you do your bit?

Hosepipe bans are on the way for much of the country this week, but will this really affect your day to day water usage? And what does it mean for the UK in the long term?

Roughly a quarter of the parched isle of Great Britain is officially in drought (and much of the rest is facing snow, that’s British weather for you) so several water companies have issued hosepipe bans.

Big publicity stuff, with a furore over the weekend with the Sun claiming water companies are wasting more water through leaks than they would save through hosepipe bans. This is something commenter Lessismore has criticised before:

‘We might take the idea of a drought more seriously and restrict our use of water in the shower if we didn’t see water from broken water pipes rushing down the street for days on end.’

But putting that to one side, is the hosepipe ban going to shape your spring and summer?

Water shortages and hosepipe bans

At the moment, south east England, East Anglia and parts of Yorkshire are in drought, other areas are at high risk and restrictions are on their way. Living in London, this feels like a ‘phoney war’ on a water shortage that I’m not really feeling the effects of.

So, with hosepipe bans implemented around the country, what will we have to do without? No more washing your car with a hosepipe; no filling up your swimming or paddling pools; no topping up ornamental (i.e. fish-free) ponds; no watering plants with a hose; and no recreational use of water – so no slip ‘n’ slide.

At the moment this probably won’t affect too many of us. It’s a bit too cold to take a dip if you’re lucky enough to have a pool. And the south east, being one of Europe’s most densely populated regions, has enough people crammed into flats and glorified broom cupboards that many don’t have a garden, let alone a hosepipe to water it with.

Generally it’s cleaning your car that will be hit hardest, though there’s been no word on whether your local car wash will be affected.

Future water use

We may moan about these water saving measures, but will they actually change our behaviour? Our previous Conversation on the drought came up with a few suggestions on how to cutback on water, from killing the tap when brushing your teeth to installing water-saving gadgets in your loo. But should we be looking at the bigger picture?

I was in Australia earlier this year and it’s now in a rainy season after its longest-ever drought. Down under the recent extreme summers have prompted head scratching, including whether the way people farm is to blame and whether people need to change the way they use water in the longer term.

If our ‘freakish’ dry spell becomes the norm, we may need to ask similarly difficult questions in the UK, and get a little more creative than just dry runs on a slip ‘n’ slide.

Do you think we’re too complacent about our water usage? Has a hosepipe ban been implemented in your area and will it make a difference to how you use water on a daily basis?


The media and many commentators quickly identify the increase in the number of dwellings as the cause of our difficulties, but is this not a simplistic excuse? More and more of the new dwellings have either no garden or a very small one, and many of them are under-occupied relative to their capacity. Yes the population is rising, and thus the need for water, but equally people are being more and more conscientious in their use of water, and domestic systems [toilet cisterns, dishwashers, washing machines] are much more economical than they used to be. Furthermore, the amount of water extracted by industry has fallen heavily. The major increase in water consumption is crop production. Sprayed irrigation is now a massive [and extremely inefficient] user of water in England and it is largely driven by the desire to maximise yields and programme the harvesting so that the right product can go on the supermarket shelves – often outside its “proper” season. There is no reason why more waste water could not be reintroduced into supply after treatment; the discharge is potable but is dumped into rivers and flows out to the sea.

John Ward is quite right: but, it’s not the excessive housing that puts pressure on ever scarcer water resources in the SE; it’s the use of water by those who inhabit them and all the other houses, works, industry offices et al, in ever increasing numbers. The London Basin has been used to abstract water through artesian wells since Victorian times, the result of which has been to lower the water tables to unsustainable levels. The situation in East Kent was dramatic 30 years ago and now you will be hard pushed to see any surface water (or springs) in the Chalk over the Weald as a whole. And as for the Ver at Verulamium (sorry Saint Albans) you’ll be lucky to se any water at all in it…after more abstraction has taken place upriver. My suggestion might be along the lines of taxing excessive water usage and prohibiting any but gray water from use for ancillary domestic and industrial purposes.

Charles Patey says:
5 April 2012

I would hope that dividends from water companies will be suspended and the money saved used to repair the leaking pipes. Extra teams of workers could be employed (reducing unemployment) with the dividend money to speed up the repair process.

Tim says:
6 April 2012

Lack of investment in the infrasructure over the years
rivers ,dams etc from the whole of the U.K. should be available to the whole uk
We should have kept all the Essential services under government control not by greedy investors

Nigel T says:
6 April 2012

I have connected water butts collecting from one side of my roof. But I live in a relatively modern house which makes it difficult to get hold of grey water as all the pipes are connected directly to soil pipes inside the structure of the house. You may be able to siphon from a bath, but it is not practical from a shower!
I am only able to collect from one side of the house as the other side slopes down to gutters which are on my neighbours side so I cannot collect as much as I would like.
Another thing that seems such a waste is combination boilers. We may be saving energy, but if you want hot water you have to run the tap and waste water instead. At least if you were able to catch grey water you would be able to use it again. We tend to use the kettle to boil water for washing up rather than run the tap.

We don’t have a combination boiler but it is necessary to run off one-and-a-half litres of low temperature water before the hot water emerges from the kitchen tap. This is because of its distance from the hot water tank. Obviously, for many purposes, this is not a problem because we actually don’t need the water to be hotter than hand-hot, but for some cleaning functions then really hot water is necessary so the excess goes straight down the drain. Like Nigel, we have a modern house with all-internal [and encased] waste water plumbing – its a pity we cannot capture and recirculate this run-off. Somebody did come up with an invention to do just that but it has not been taken up by the housebuilding industry. A high percentage of brand new houses still do not have efficient water pipework to minimise waste – long pipe runs are needed to feed hot water to all the baths, showers, washbasins and sinks.

Give a rebate OR cancel already implemented increase in water
charges. No business (and watcos are businesses) I can think of
where their customers are asked to pay MORE for using less, very
much LESS in fact.

Re Singapore referred to, water leakage there is abt 5% as opposed
to Thames Water’s of 25%…. cf NYC and Paris of 10 % each, desalination
plants may be expensive but thought it’s tried and tested technology.
Such plants have been built elsewhere and operating with apparent

Rain cloud seeding experiments had actually been carried out in Sp that I
know for a fact… with more advanced technology available now, perhaps
shall have a higher degree of success.

Leslie Coles says:
8 April 2012

I am a keen vegetable Gardner and live in the south east, we save water that would normally go down the drain, we run off the “cold water” that come from the hot tap into a bucket until it is just warm before filling the washing up bowl, this gives me 3/4 gallon a day, we also save the washing up water if it is not greasy this gives us another 4/5 gallon per day, we have also just started saving the water from the shower until it runs hot, this gave us 4 gallons today, this gives me enough water to keep the veg growing,

Tim Leunig says:
14 April 2012

I have written an alternative proposal to the hosepipe ban – you can read it here: http://www.centreforum.org/index.php/mainpublications/339-hosepipe-bans-are-not-the-answer, and you can read the Daily Telegraph write up here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/drought/9203704/Hosepipe-bans-are-unfair-on-households-says-Liberal-Democrat-think-tank.html.
I think it makes sense, but do email me with any comments.

Edited by moderators: For your own safety, we do not allow users to give out or solicit any kind of personal contact information or anything that would enable another forum user to find out who/where you are

I am a keen gardener (open under the National garden scheme) and Which? subscriber. In my case it is quite hard to redirect bath water (etc), as my bathroom is in the middle of the house, and has no external wall. I also have concrete floors. My roof water already goes into soakaways in the garden, and my shed roof water is piped to the fishpond.

“I have written an alternative proposal to the hosepipe ban – you can read it here: http://www.centreforum.org/index.php/mainpublications/339-hosepipe-bans-are-not-the-answer

That is a well-thought-out proposal. I think it makes a lot of sense.

Robert Davidson says:
16 April 2012

The water companies and local and national government are responsible for this and other water shortages. Dave D points out that rainwater can be collected and used in the garden, but there is no reason why it cannot seived and filtered for use in the house. There is currently no incentive to make the substantial investment in storage and additional plumbing, and that needs to be addressed at the highest leve. Certainly, no permission to build or extend property (domestic or commercial) should be granted unless the proposal includes suitable provision for collection and reuse of rainwater and recycling of grey water. For existing properties grants should be made available to install water collection facilities. I have a 350l water butt that collects about half of the rain falling on my fairly small house. I haven’t measured how much it collects, but if it is empty in the morning and there is rainsall day, the butt will be overflowing by the evening. I estimate up to 1,000l per day could be collected if the facility were there. Some people might not feel comfortable using collected rainwater in the kitchen, but it should be fine for toilet, bath/shower and laundry with minimum refinement.

G.Payne says:
25 April 2012

Hosepipe ban or not, I would never dream of using “tap water” anywhere on the garden. I would recommend that every gardener instal as many water butts as possible. Here in Kent, there is too much chalk in tap water, so I have always collected rainwater – much better for the plants – in some 14 butts, round the house, green house, garage, carport – all different sites, making watering convenient if not any longer easy – so I shall be using a hose to water the more distant plantings. But it will carry water from the butts, not the tap, “Hose pipe ban” really means a ban on using Water Company water through a hosepipe.

M. Rivers says:
28 April 2012

I am happy to save water and have 5 water butts around the garden for the fruit and veg I grow. I use a water butt pump to transfer the water between them. We do what we can in the house to save water drought or no drought -“hippos” in the loo tank, saving the water we run to get hot water for washing up – this goes in buckets and is put on the fruit trees etc. I think everyone can do their bit, but the water companies must be held to account for their colossal wastage through leaking pipes – they are doing too little too late.

Thames Water applied to build a four-square-mile reservoir quite near to my property. I was originally opposed to it but changed my mind. However, without any intervention from me, the Government Inspector rejected the plan.

See http://www.abingdonreservoir.org.uk/index.html

The reservoir (really, a storage area) would have been filled during winter, when the Thames was in spate, and then used to replenish the Thames when there was a drought – and the river was running very low – probably in summer. The Thames, of course, is used repeatedly to fill other reservoirs along its route, where the water is taken for consumption. The idea behind this scheme was to keep the river flowing, and thereby filling those reservoirs, in drought conditions.