Reservoirs almost half empty as heatwave brings massive surge in water use across Yorkshire

Water levels at Yorkshire Water's reservoirs are down, on average across the region, by 10 per cent compared to normal levels at this time of the year. At Swinsty Reservoir, where Tom Underwood, the company's media advisor, is pictured, the water level is at 60 per cent capacity. 'Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Water levels at Yorkshire Water's reservoirs are down, on average across the region, by 10 per cent compared to normal levels at this time of the year. At Swinsty Reservoir, where Tom Underwood, the company's media advisor, is pictured, the water level is at 60 per cent capacity. 'Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
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An extra 125m litres of water a day has been supplied to Yorkshire homes and businesses, leaving the region’s reservoirs almost half empty as a result of Britain’s driest start to summer for 57 years.

At the height of demand from customers, Yorkshire Water supplied more than 1.5bn litres of water on one day alone - 200m more than on a typical day.

On average, reservoir levels across the region are currently at 58 per cent capacity, around 10 per cent lower than normal at this time of the year and the lowest levels recorded since 2011.

Yorkshire Water operates 120 raw water reservoirs across the region and those in the north west area of the county have been hardest hit.

But the situation could have been worse. There has not been an official drought declared in Yorkshire since 1995 when some of the county’s reservoirs resembled small deserts. Since then the water company has invested £300m in its infrastructure, including in a 150-mile long underground system that moves water around so that towns and cities have ample water supplies during hot spells.

Tom Underwood, media advisor for Yorkshire Water, said: “Since the heatwave began in mid-June we have supplied, on average, an extra 125m litres of water a day to meet the increased demand. However, demand has reduced in the last week as the weather has got milder and customers have heeded our water saving advice.

“The highest demand was on 28th June when we supplied over 1.5bn litres of water. To put this in context, based on data covering the last 20 years we typically supply around 1.3bn litres of water per day.”

England experienced its direst June since 1925 but the country has so far avoided any hosepipe bans. A ban by United Utilites, due to start tomorrow in the North West, has been put on hold due to recent rainfall.

Asked how close Yorkshire Water had come to introducing a ban, Mr Underwood said: “Our planning process means we have been able to deal with the high demand by increasing supply of treated water and using our underground grid system to move water around the county to where it’s needed most. Also, thanks to customers heeding advice about how to use water wisely, demand has reduced over the last week or so. We would ask customers to continue being careful with their use of water.”

The heat has been a test however. Dry ground conditions mean 150 repair teams are out dealing with three times more leaks compared to this time last year.

Mr Underwood said Yorkshire Water is spending £75m this year to prevent and fix leaks, with more than 30,000 acoustic telemetry units being installed on pipes to help identify pressure points.

Some 42 per cent of drinking water from Yorkshire Water is from reservoirs, 33 per cent from rivers and 22 per cent from underground boreholes. Supplies from those other sources have not been unduly affected, Mr Underwood said, but there has been an environmental impact.

Fish have been rescued from water courses, including at Janet’s Foss waterfall near Malham which dried up last month for the first time in recent memory.

Anne Dacey, deputy director of water at the Environment Agency said: “Hot dry weather over the last couple of months has taken its toll on the environment, with our teams responding to a high number of incidents to protect wildlife suffering due to low river flows. We are working with water companies to ensure they are following robust drought plans to conserve water and we are supporting farmers to protect food supplies and livestock.”