WATER bosses have admitted they only have enough supplies left to last two months.
South East Water said levels at its reservoirs at Ardingly and Arlington were so low that it needed to urgently drain the River Ouse to save Sussex from drought.
Yesterday the company said it had asked the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for permission to divert an extra 15 million litres of water a day from the Ouse for the next six months – three-quarters of its flow.
According to Ofwat, the company loses 95 million litres of water a day from leaky pipes. Last week The Argus reported the company was already warning it might have to introduce a hosepipe ban after water levels plummeted.
But there are now only two months’ water left at Ardingly reservoir, which supplies more than 65,000 homes in Sussex.
Caroline Spelman, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, will have to approve the drought order before South East Water is allowed to reduce the minimum flow of the Ouse from 20 million litres a day to just five million. The company hopes to drain off the supplies at the Barcombe Water Treatment Works.
Lee Dance, head of water resources for South East Water, said: “Faced with a worsening drought situation, and with no sign of significant rainfall and customer demand for water continuing, it is vital we take immediate steps to protect Ardingly Reservoir and our customers’ water supplies.
“Due to the time of year, the short-term impacts on the water environment in the River Ouse are expected to be minimal. Nevertheless we have put in place a number of measures to minimise this impact. We continue to work with the Environment Agency and local environmental groups too.”
A spokeswoman for the utility firm said that the last few days’ rainfall had been negligible in comparison to the amount needed. She said a long spell of continuous rain would be needed to prevent a severe drought next spring and summer.
Customers have been urged to cut water usage by taking shorter showers, using garden water butts and only running washing machines and dishwashers when full.