London April 12, 2012
A water fountain in Trafalgar Square has been turned off due to drought restrictions which have been in force since early April. Photo: AP
REFRAIN from washing cars - that is the message Londoners are getting from posters that have been put up in the British capital.
These days, water has to be saved in notoriously rainy England - and every opportunity to do so is being seized.
The so-called ''hosepipe ban'' means no more car washing, no more watering of the lawn, and an end to frolicking in the fountains on Trafalgar Square.
Any law-abiding citizen observing their neighbours using a hose is advised to report them to the police, who could haul them before a magistrate empowered to impose fines of up to £1000 ($A1500).
The cliche of the English drizzle is no more. Some areas in the south and east of the country are the driest in decades. The water table has fallen, and rivers and lakes are at extreme lows or have dried out completely. A dry winter and a mild spring are to blame for the severely depleted water reserves.
After weeks of warning, authorities imposed the contentious ban last week. Using a sprinkler on the lawn or washing the car with a garden hose are now illegal in certain areas. The rule applies to a region containing about 20 million people.
The aim is to cut consumption there by up to 10 per cent. But if the dry weather continues, gardens in other regions will also fall under the ban.
There is considerable confusion about what is allowed and what is not. For instance, may animals be washed and drinking troughs be filled by hose? That was a question a woman who keeps geese asked through a website set up for the purpose by the BBC.
The website hosted comments from a golf club complaining that it could go bankrupt, and of a pregnant woman who says she is watching her garden dry out because she is unable to carry the heavy watering cans and buckets that form the legal alternative to the hosepipe.
Another reason behind the shortage lies in London's decaying water infrastructure, which leaks large quantities of precious purified drinking water into the soil under the city.
Utility company Thames Water, is reported to be losing up to 26 per cent of its drinking water through leaky pipes, according to a survey conducted by the supervisory board, Ofwat.
Water-saving measures will be in force at least until the northern autumn.