WATER bosses say they will have to take measures to reduce use, including a hosepipe ban, claiming there has been an ‘exceptional shortage of rain’.

It comes as Southern Water, the water supplier in the region, is seeking a drought permit from the Environment Agency (EA) amid fears of dropping water levels in the River Test.

Yesterday, representatives from the firm met with a planning inspector, objectors and the EA in Winchester to discuss concerns over the planned permit.

It would allow Southern Water to continue using the river, which the company describes as a “vital source of fresh water for south Hampshire”, if flows continue to drop as forecast.

Setting out the case, Timothy Comyn, a legal representative for Southern Water, said they were looking at other water “resource options”, but said: “We are in a situation of an exceptional shortage of rainfall in the Southampton West area.”

He also said the operator was looking to reduce usage and leakage, although he said the water lost through leakage was a relatively small amount.

As previously reported, one of the measures to reduce water usage would be a Temporary Use Ban, or ‘hosepipe ban’.

Bosses have said if the permit is granted, a ban is likely to be imposed in Southampton, rural areas in the west of Hampshire and possibly the Isle of Wight.

Nigel Hepworth, water resources policy manager at Southern Water, said prior to the meeting: “Using a drought permit means that we must do everything in our power to reduce water use and so minimise the impact on the river’s precious and unique habitat.

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“If the drought permit is granted we will be asking more of our customers by imposing TUBs in certain areas.

“If we do have to do this, it will be carried out in a phased way in specific areas which depend on the River Test for water and we’ll provide full details in advance.

“We understand this is disruptive and inconvenient but we’ve also seen our customers feedback that protecting the environment and the River Test is a priority for them too.”

In a bid to secure water supplies in the River Test, Southern Water is also looking to Portsmouth Water to support the Southampton East area, rather than supplies coming from the Southampton West source.

Planning inspector Mike Robbins summarised the objections to the proposed permit during the hearing, saying the objectors, including the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, had concerns over measurement and mitigation measures for wildlife in the River Test.

Following the hearing, an EA spokesperson said: “We are currently considering a drought permit application from Southern Water for the River Test.

“Although flows are currently at normal in the river for this time of year, Southern Water has applied for this drought permit so they are prepared if flows reduce.

“We will determine whether the permit will be granted by the end of August and we will continue to work with Southern Water as it develops its long-term water resource solutions that will protect this iconic river.”