1. ITV Report

Reservoir half empty

Bewl reservoir Photo: PA

A water company has applied to the Environment Agency for a one-month extension to a drought permit to help refill the South East's largest reservoir amid the dry conditions.

Southern Water already has consent to take water from the River Medway in Kent to top up Bewl Water on the Kent and East Sussex border until March 31. But due to the dry spell, resulting in millions of households facing hosepipe bans by Easter, the firm has asked the Environment Agency for the permit to be extended to April 30.

A company spokesman said the extension application would allow them to continue pumping water into Bewl so it can refill as much as possible before the summer.

Nearly 2,000 million litres of water have been pumped into Bewl since the permit was granted, and the reservoir now stands 47% full. But at this time of year it should be at 90% of its capacity of 31,000 million litres, the company said.

South East's largest reservoir Credit: PA

Keeping the emergency powers in place for one extra month could allow up to 4,650 million litres of water to be put into the reservoir which supplies the Medway Towns, Thanet and Hastings areas.

Meyrick Gough, Southern Water's water planning and strategy manager, said: "If we continue pumping into Bewl until the end of April, it will make a real difference to the reservoir level, particularly if we see some rain over the next few weeks. It is essential that we get more water into Bewl ready for the summer. We don't need it to be completely full but ideally we'd like it to reach levels of 70% by the end of April."

Southern Water said it has been trying to manage water resources by combating leaks and is spending £55.5 million to further reduce leaks by 2013. It, along with South East Water, Thames Water, Anglian Water, Sutton and East Surrey, Veolia Central and Veolia South East, will have restrictions on water use in place before the Easter bank holiday.

Last month the water companies warned that hosepipe bans were on the cards as the Environment Department declared the South East had joined most of East Anglia in a state of drought. Shortly afterwards the rest of the Anglian region went into drought.

The Environment Agency said rain in March had been welcome but not enough to reverse the impacts of two consecutive dry winters for the affected regions.

Around 20 million people could be affected by the restrictions but Water UK said taking steps to reduce use now would mean there was more water available for people and the environment in the coming months.