CONCERNS for businesses, crops and gardens are rife after Anglian Water announced on Monday that it will bring in a hosepipe ban next month.
From April 5, domestic customers of the water company will be banned from using hosepipes due to the low water levels in Rutland Water which supplies the area.
The reservoir level is currently 25 per cent lower than average for this time of the year.
Managing director of Anglian Water Peter Simpson said: “This is the first time Anglian Water has imposed a hosepipe ban in more than 20 years, but we believe this is the most sensible and responsible action to take to help safeguard customer supplies for this year, next year and beyond.
“Our region has had its driest 18 months for a century, including two dry winters which have robbed us of the rainfall we need to refill rivers, reservoirs and aquifers.”
In December the Environment Agency granted Anglian Water a drought permit to take water from the River Nene to top up levels at Rutland Water until the end of April.
The Welland Rivers Trust, which looks after the River Welland, which also flows into Rutland Water, says without the hosepipe ban drinking water and crop levels would decline.
Trustee David Sones of Water Street, Stamford, said: “The hosepipe ban is entirely necessary I am afraid because, as people can see, both the main river and the Mill Stream in Stamford are suffering considerably from low flows.
“This is partly down to the lack of rain but more down to the fact that more water is being pumped across to Rutland Water. This is the priority because without it we don’t have any drinking water.
“We have got a serious problem and I don’t think people have yet really caught on to the fact that there is a water shortage.”
The low levels are already threatening the ecology of the Welland.
Mr Sones added: “It can have quite a serious impact on the wildlife and the fish. It is a food chain. If you start losing fish you start affecting the wildlife that feed on them. It is about as serious as it has been for 80-odd years now.”
The ban is only for domestic purposes which means businesses and farmers can still water their crops and plants, but if the dry weather continues there are already concerns for the future.
National Farmers’ Union deputy president Meurig Raymond said: “Most agricultural production in England and Wales is rain-fed, with only one per cent of water resources nationally being taken from ground and surface water sources for agricultural use.
“The National Farmers’ Union is now discussing with water companies how drinking water will continue to be made available for livestock and with the Environment Agency on how restrictions on crop irrigation could be phased in to allow advance planning and use of voluntary restrictions wherever possible.
“People need to realise that there is no quick fix to this issue. Increasing investment in on-farm water storage capacity will be vital going forward.”
Garden centres are also planning for a tough summer.
Manager at Rutland Water Garden Nursery Bob Brown said: “The drought will have an effect on most garden businesses.
“But my thought is that people who do take care of their gardens will water them with a watering can if they have to. People with bigger gardens will have more problems.
“What else is there? We are in the middle of a recession, people don’t go out to eat and they want their gardens looking nice.”
Waterside Garden Centre in King Street, Baston, says the number of inquiries into water butts has already gone up in the last week.
Anglian Water is one of seven water companies in England which will be introducing hosepipe bans. The others are Thames Water, Southern Water, Veolia Central Water, South East Water, Veolia South East and Sutton and East Surrey Water.
Although Rutland Water is in Rutland, the county gets its water supplies from Severn Trent Water.
Severn Water says it has enough water for its customers this year but is still asking them to be vigilant with their use.
Treasurer of Stamford Transition Towns Val Harvey of Garratt Road, Stamford, says garden owners should invest in a water butt.
The group has a community allotment in Uffington Road Allotments in Stamford.
She added: “A lot of allotment holders collect the rainwater that drains off their shed roofs and it makes a real difference.
“I use my dirty dish water to water my garden. It’s things like that that can save water and money.”
At this time of the year people are starting to sew their seeds for vegetable crops.
Stamford community gardener Heidi Haxeltine of Rutland Road, Stamford, says garden centres can advise people which plants and crops are drought resistant.
She said: “I personally use a watering can. It is time consuming but in organic gardening it really gives you the opportunity to get to know your plants. You can see if they are healthy or have any bugs on them.
“It will be a pain for people who are used to getting the hose out but people are going to have to start planning now.”
She suggest these tips:
* Choose drought resistant crops and varieties
* Enrich soil with organic matter
* Water at base of the plant into “saucer dips”
* Mulch plants after rain (or watering) to retain moisture, using leafmould, compost, straw or grass cutting over newspaper to a depth of at least 5cm (preferably 10cm).
* It is better to give the soil a good soaking every few days rather than just wetting the surface regularly.
* Water plants at their critical stages. Directly sown seeds: Keep soil moist. When transplanting: Water frequently.
More leafy vegetables (eg spinach) will require more continuous water to allow leaf expansion; For plants that produce fruits (eg tomatoes, beans) watering is most critical from fruit or pod set onwards; If you want potatoes to be free from scab avoid letting the soil dry out for about six weeks after tuber initiation, about when the plants are 15cm high.
Anglian Water is offering a free water preserving garden kit at www.anglianwater.co.uk