UK & World News
Heavy Downpours Set For Drought-Hit Region
Anglian Water has told Sky News there are no plans to ease hosepipe restrictions despite heavy downpours being predicted today for eastern England - one of the regions worst hit by the current drought.
Severe weather warnings have been issued by the Met Office, which says there could be localised flooding in areas such as East Anglia and the East Midlands, leading to difficult driving conditions.
The heavy showers are expected to be slow-moving and develop throughout the day, with a chance of hail and thunder. The rain should gradually ease during the evening.
A yellow severe weather warning has been issued - meaning people should be aware.
East Anglia, the southeast of England, south and east Yorkshire, the Midlands and southwest of England are currently in drought, according to the Environment Agency.
Seven water companies have introduced restrictions on water use following one of the driest two-year periods on record, with domestic customers facing a £1,000 fine if they use their hosepipe in defiance of the ban.
Customers are no longer able to use their hosepipes for watering their gardens, washing cars or boats, hosing down patios and paths and filling swimming pools, ponds, fountains and paddling pools. Public parks and allotments are also hit.
Around 20 million people are affected by a hosepipe ban brought into force earlier this month.
The seven firms are Veolia Central, Thames Water, Anglian Water, Southern Water, South East Water, Sutton and East Surrey and Veolia South East.
Speaking about the predicted heavy showers, Anglian Water spokeswoman Kimberley Huggins said "It's a fantastic relief" as the firm has been "struggling" against two dry winters.
She added: "It's very good news and eases the pressure - but we need weeks if not months of rain to overcome the drought.
"The extra rain will go into the soil and then find its way into reservoirs and then the Environmental Agency decides how much we take from rivers and lakes."
Ms Huggins also said the company has taken on an extra 60 people to deal with leaky pipes - and was "doing everything we can to get to them as fast as possible".
Asked whether the firm was taking any further steps to capture the water, she added: "We are looking at new options, new ways of working and we are not resting on our laurels. We are looking at ways we can improve".
She said the firm was also continuing to talk to Severn Trent about a possible plan to flow water from the Midlands into the drought-hit East.
Around 30 million litres of raw water per day - enough to supply 100,000 homes in the Anglian Water region - could be transferred 80 miles from Birmingham to Gainsborough under the Severn Trent Water scheme.
There has also been some rainfall in recent days in the southeast of England.
Thames Water spokeswoman Natalie Slater told Sky News the showers were "a welcome relief".
She said: "It has been the driest two years ever and we need to have weeks and months of rain" to get water levels back up to where they should be.
She added: "Although it has been raining, people need to be as conscious of water levels as ever."
Ms Slater also said there would be no easing of the current hosepipe restrictions.
An Environment Agency spokesperson said to Sky News: "While rain over the spring and summer will help to water crops and gardens, it is unlikely to improve the underlying drought situation.
"It was hoped that a prolonged period of rainfall between October and March - known as the winter recharge period - would prevent widespread drought, but parts of England received less than 60% of the average winter rainfall, and water supplies have not been replenished."
Meanwhile, there is another severe weather warning in place for Scotland on Friday and Saturday, as further heavy showers are predicted to hit parts of the country.
The Met Office said there was some uncertainty about where the heaviest slow-moving showers would develop but there may possibly be heavy rain on Friday and Saturday afternoon.
Again, there is a risk of localised surface water flooding and difficult driving conditions.
Sky's weather presenter Nazaneen Ghaffar said: "The winds today are light so as a result the heavy showers will be moving through slowly across central and eastern parts of England.
"Tonight the area of low pressure bringing the showers across the East Midlands and East Anglia will move northwards into the North Sea.
"So the showers will clear the south of the UK but there will be outbreaks of rain for north east England and eastern Scotland and this rain will slowly move westwards across the rest of Scotland and northern England.
"On Friday and Saturday there will be further showers around, the heaviest and most prolonged will be over Scotland."