Is Britain running dry?

Tonight reporter Jonathan Maitland with a garden hosepipe Credit: Tonight/ITV

The cost of Britain’s current drought comes under the spotlight on ITV1’s Tonight programme.

After two exceptionally dry winters, half of Britain is now officially in drought as we face our most severe water shortage since 1976.

Twenty million people are already under hosepipe bans, and families are being urged to use our most precious resource as sparingly as possible.

Despite a wet April, a severe water shortage is having a devastating impact on the environment.

Wildfires have been raging on parched land from as far south as Devon, all the way up to Yorkshire in the north.

And they’ve started much earlier than normal this year – thanks to a hot and dry March.

In West Yorkshire, there were just four major fires in the whole of 2011. But so far this year there have already been three.

A few miles up the road in Helmsley, the programme films a fish rescue on the River Rye, where water levels have fallen dangerously low.

According to the Environment Agency, this type of operation would normally take place at the height of summer if at all.

Householders should also be steeling themselves to be hit in the pocket.

The current drought is taking its toll on Britain’s farmers – and that could spell a hike in food prices.

Dried up river Credit: Tonight/ITV

Charles Phillips, who runs Macaroni Farm in Gloucestershire, says that because of the drought, farmers are having to pay more for livestock feed. Lower crop yields could also be a potential problem.

The average Briton uses 150 litres of water every day. That’s almost double what we used in the 1960s. But only a third of households in UK currently have water meters. That makes us almost unique in Europe and some experts say it’ll have to change.

Nicci Russell of environmental pressure group Waterwise thinks that the answer is for every household to have a water meter.

In a recent survey nearly a fifth of people say they planned to ignore the hosepipe ban and 85 per cent say they wouldn’t report their neighbours for using a hose either.

The UK’s population is set to rise by five million over the next 10 years, so there is no escaping the fact that water resources are bound to come under more strain, which is why some households are turning to storing water in large underground rainwater harvesting tanks.

Rainwater tank installation Credit: Tonight/ITV

Gerry and Marilyn Devine of Harrow, North London, have installed a 1500 litre tank linked to their downstairs loo and a garden tap so they can water the garden with their hosepipe whenever they like despite living in a hosepipe ban area. The couple is also planning to plumb it into their washing machine.

And the benefits aren’t just environmental. The Devines are on a water meter, so cutting back on their mains usage has led to a drastic reduction in their yearly bill – down by £200.

Meanwhile, 3.3 billion litres of water is lost every single day in leaks by the water companies, though that is down by more than a third since the mid1990s, says watchdog Ofwat.

Is Britain Running Dry? is on ITV1 at 7.30pm

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