Summer of drought? Minister hosts emergency water summit

By Ian Dunt

The UK may be facing hosepipe bans this summer after a remarkably dry winter, the environment secretary warned today.

The comments come amid unseasonably high temperatures, with forecasters saying parts of Britain could reach 18C by the end of the week.

"A hosepipe ban is more likely this year. I think people were quite surprised last year that, not withstanding the fact that it was so dry, that there were no hosepipe bans," Caroline Spelman told the BBC's Today programme.

"We have had the second dry winter in a row. Whereas last year it was principally the farmers that were affected by the dry conditions and the public water supply was not affected, I think it is more likely that the public water supply will be affected unless we have substantial rainfall between now and the summer."

Water companies, farmers and wildlife groups have been brought in for an emergency meeting on water use today, as rivers in central and south-east England dry up.

"The purpose of the summit is to get everybody round the table and decide what actions need to be taken against the risk of droughts," Ms Spelman said.

There have been complaints the government failed to take advantage of heavy rainfall in the north-west and Scotland by adding a pipeline to the south-east, but Ms Spelman insisted water was costly to transport.

Instead, families should start saving water now, she said.

"What's counter-intuitive is to start saving water now," she continued.

"You might think about saving water in the summer when it's hot. The point about having the summit now is to take preventative action so we can mitigate the impact in the future."

The winter has been remarkably dry through much of the UK, with less rainfall than in the months preceding the severe drought of 1976, which triggered water rationing and wild fires.