Water companies across southern and eastern England have introduced hosepipe bans from 5 April as a result of the ongoing drought in parts of the UK. Here's a guide to what has happened.
Gareth Fuller, PA
Which companies have introduced a hosepipe ban?
These companies serve homes across south-east England and East Anglia.
The ban is affecting around 20 milion people.
When did the hosepipe bans come into force?
Thursday 5 April, to continue until further notice.
What does this mean for people living in regions covered by the ban?
The following things have now been banned:
- watering a garden using a hosepipe
- cleaning a car using a hosepipe
- watering plants using a hosepipe
- cleaning a private leisure boat using a hosepipe
- filling or maintaining a swimming or paddling pool
- drawing water with a hosepipe for "recreational use"
- filling or maintaining a domestic pond using a hosepipe, except where fish or other aquatic animals are being reared or kept in captivity
- filling or maintaining an ornamental fountain
- cleaning walls or windows with a hosepipe
- cleaning paths or patios with a hosepipe
- cleaning other artificial outdoor surfaces using a hosepipe.
People found breaching the terms of the ban risk being prosecuted and fined up to £1,000.
Are they any exemptions?
Yes. Disabled people with blue badges are not affected by the ban, while some businesses, including car washing firms, will be allowed to continue using hosepipes in most areas.
People are still able to use a watering can for plants and a bucket to wash their cars.
Exemptions are also in place for surfaces used for national and international sporting events, meaning the 2012 Games will be unaffected.
Why have the bans been introduced?
Drought conditions currently exist in a number of counties in England. These are: Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, parts of Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire, west Norfolk (all in drought since summer 2011); Hampshire, West Sussex, East Sussex, Kent, Surrey, London, Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, and the east of Gloucestershire (all in drought since February 2012); and parts of North, South and East Yorkshire (in drought since March 2012).
The hosepipe bans have been introduced as a result of the drought, which has seen water levels in some parts of the country fall lower than in the famously dry summer of 1976. It is hoped the bans will avoid water companies having to take more serious measures later in the year, such as reducing the pressure of water supplies or restricting demand by introducing standpipes.
When was the last time hosepipe bans were introduced?
In the summer of 2006, following two years of exceptionally low rainfall.
What have the water companies said about the ban?
Anglian Water managing director Peter Simpson said: "Two dry winters have prevented rivers, reservoirs and aquifers from refilling with the water we treat and supply the rest of the year, especially during the hotter months when demand rises."
Sutton and East Surrey operations manager Mike Hegarty, meanwhile, warned there was no end in sight to the situation.
"We have said from the outset that we very much regret having to impose this bar but this drought is becoming increasingly serious. We have no choice if we are to protect our customers by ensuring the long-term security of their water supply."
What has been the government's response?
Environment secretary Caroline Spelman has said: "These temporary restrictions will help protect the public's water supply in the areas most affected by the record low levels of rainfall we have experienced over the last 17 months. We can all help reduce the effects of drought by respecting these restrictions and being smarter about how we use water."
Could more hosepipe bans be introduced later this year?
Yes. The Environment Agency has warned that drought conditions could spread as far west as the Hampshire-Wiltshire border if the dry weather continues throughout spring. It has also warned of the effect of the drought on agriculture, meaning that the price of potatoes and other vegetables could rise.