Southern Water has not had to use the precautionary drought permit it was granted by the Environment Agency last month, after Bewl Water reservoir levels have made an “astonishing recovery”.

The water company said the weeks of winter rain saw the reservoir levels hits 75 per cent yesterday (12 February) from a low of just under 33 per cent full at the start of December 2017.

It described the refill of Bewl Water as “good news” but stressed ground water sources which account for more than three quarters of its tap water, are still below average for this time of year.

The company warned there “can be no let-up” on finding leaks or on customers’ water efficiency.

Nigel Hepworth, water resources policy manager at Southern Water, said: “Strong rainfall kept river flows well above the precautionary drought permit allowances so to our relief we have not had to use the extra headroom granted us by the Environment Agency.”

He added: “Despite not using the permit, we are absolutely sure that applying for it was the right thing to do. Given the situation in December, it would have been irresponsible not to have taken every possible step to ensure refill.”

Bewl Water reservoir is the largest stretch of open water in the South East of England. Southern Water was granted a drought permit by the Environment Agency on 17 January to allow it to pump more water than normal out of the nearby River Medway.

The application was submitted to the Environment Agency on 5 January, after a dry winter of 2016 and “exceptionally” dry autumn in 2017. In October and November the South East received less half of the usual amount of rain.

It was the first time Southern had to apply for a drought permit since 2012.

Southern said downpours in late December 2017 and January 2018 helped refill the water source which is important for supplies to Thanet and is also used by South East Water.

Hitting the 75 per cent full level at Bewl Water is also an indication that water in aquifers beneath the ground have also been refilling, Southern Water said.

Only 7 per cent of the company’s supplies comes from reservoirs while nearly 80 per cent is extracted from bore holes.

The rain has “lowered but not eliminated” the risk of Southern Water having to impose temporary use bans for customers, such as a hosepipe ban this summer.

Hepworth added: “The situation at Bewl was a reflection of the fact that we live in an officially designated water stressed area. We urge people not to waste water and in the long term we want customers to reduce average daily use from a currently efficient 133 litres a day to a target of 100 litres a day by 2040.”

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