Water restrictions will hit parts of England in the coming weeks, despite figures showing that up to 22% of water supply could be saved if water companies fixed leaks.
Around seven million United Utilities customers will be banned from using hosepipes or sprinklers to water gardens or wash cars from 5 August.
The company covers the north west of England, although Carlisle district and the north-eastern corner of Eden district are exempt, the firm said.
Martin Padley, United Utilities water services director, said: “Despite some recent rainfall, reservoir levels are still lower than we would expect at this time of year and, with forecasters predicting a return to hot dry weather for the rest of July, we are now at a point where we will need to impose some temporary restrictions on customers.”
A hosepipe ban was introduced in Northern Ireland earlier this month and various other water providers have warned people not to waste water.
But water companies have been told that they should be better at fixing leaks rather than “lining shareholder pockets”.
Water firms in England lose between 20 and 22% of supply due to leaks, according to regulator Ofwat, while Steve Mogford, the chief executive of United Utilities, was paid £2.3m last year, a 49% increase since 2013.
Bosses of England’s nine private water companies were paid £58m in pay and benefits over the last five years, while household water bills have risen by 40% above inflation between 1989 and 2015.
Image: Water companies have been criticised for bringing in hosepipe bans while failing to fix leaks
Professor David Hall, a water industry expert at the University of Greenwich, said privatised water firms have an incentive not to fix too many leaks as it begins to eat into profits and becomes uneconomic.
He said: “They are making big profits, virtually all of it taken out of the industry in dividends, not reinvesting anything and racking up debt.
“They can’t recoup the cost of making reductions in leakage levels except by reducing profits, that’s not what they want to do.
“If the leakage levels were not so high, the daily volume of water delivered would be higher, therefore we would reach the point of hosepipe bans much later.
“Reaction to natural phenomena is something we all have to do but in 21st-century countries we should expect water companies to organise systems and plans so that when drought comes along our lives are minimally affected.
“A hosepipe ban is a fairly serious thing to impose. Watching plants die in your garden through lack of water is not pleasant.”
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