Thames Water and six other water companies in southern and south-east England have imposed hosepipe bans — but keen gardener Alison Brown can carry on regardless.
© Andrew Hasson
Like an increasing number of homeowners, she has a plentiful supply of clean, free water from a borehole in her garden.
The past 18 months have been the driest on record, while water bills continue to rise — with increases averaging 5.7 per cent this year.
But while other gardeners face a summer of parched lawns and wilting blooms, beneath a pocketsize drain cover in her Kent garden Alison recently had a borehole drilled that taps into water lying only six metres below the surface. From this she receives a supply of safe, constant water — completely free.
The decision to go "off grid" and to seek a personal water supply was made last summer when her village, Yalding, was the subject of a hosepipe ban. "We have a walled Victorian vegetable garden," explains Alison, 42. "I was spending a couple of hours every other day trying to water the garden with watering cans — it was taking so much time, we decided to look into getting another supply."
She and her husband Colin, 60, who runs a software company, along with their 16-year-old son Jonathan, live in a low-lying area close to the water table so they only needed a relatively shallow borehole to reach water. They also knew that their house had a well in Victorian times.
They hired South Eastern Drilling Services (se-drilling.co.uk) to do the work. "It only took a day," says Alison. "They brought a rig in like something out of Dallas and just drilled down."
An underground pump now brings the water to the surface, where it is filtered. The pump is triggered each time they turn on an outside tap. A regular hosepipe can be fitted to the tap, but Alison is considering installing an underground automatic watering system.
The borehole is unobtrusive — "the size of a dinner plate" — and the project cost about £1,500, though prices vary depending on the type of earth and rock that must be drilled through and the depth of the water table. Typical prices are £4,000 to £5,000, and can rise to £15,000 if you want a household supply.
© Andrew Hasson
At the moment Alison only uses the water for her garden but expects this to reduce her metered water bills sufficiently to cover her costs in just a few years. The only ongoing cost of their borehole is the electricity to run the pump.
"We could supply the house but we would need to connect the borehole to our plumbing system and we'd need a better filter to make sure the water is hygienic," says Alison. "You have to get the water tested to make sure it is drinkable."
An alternative plan would be to extend the use of the present supply to flush loos and do washing before investing in a more expensive filter. Alison is allowed to draw up to 20,000 litres of water a day before she would require a licence. The average UK household — without a swimming pool — uses 150 litres daily.
How easy is it to dig a borehole?
Sonny Worrall, of South Eastern Drilling Services, says the depth of the borehole depends on the geography of each area. "In Yalding it is just six metres, but in Henley-on-Thames it would be more like 10 metres, and in Canterbury you'd be looking at 40 metres or more. If you are on low ground and near a river the water table tends to be closer to the surface. And the more you have to dig — sometimes up to 80 metres — the more expensive it will be."
Phil Boardman, operations manager of Synergy Boreholes (www.synergyboreholes.co.uk), began his career drilling for oil and gas. "What really surprised me when I started doing water boreholes was how easy it was," he says.
How to provide your home with a private water supply
The first step is to get a hydro-geology report that will tell you how deep you will have to drill to find water — and what sort of rock you will need to drill through to get there. The harder the rock the more difficult — and expensive — the project will be.
"Sand is very soft and easy to drill through, but it collapses all the time, which makes it more difficult," says Boardman. Once you have hit water the borehole must be lined, a filtration system and pump installed and — if you plan to hook the water up to your indoor taps or use it to fill a pool — it must be tested. You may also need a holding tank to guarantee a continuous supply.
"For farmers it's definitely worthwhile because they spend £15,000 a year on water bills. Most private clients are people with swimming pools, ponds, ornamental lakes or automatic irrigation systems for their gardens and they use a lot of water, too."
The Well Drillers Association (www.welldrillers.org) offers advice to consumers interested in having their own water supply, and has details of reputable contractors in each area. The British Drilling Association (www.britishdrillingassociation.co.uk) can also recommend local companies.
Back in Yalding, Alison remains delighted. "Because I can water my plants as much as I like — and also because it is all free."
Where the ban applies
Hosepipe use in the garden, or for washing cars, has been banned since April 5 by Southern Water, South East Water, Thames Water, Anglian Water, Sutton and East Surrey, Veolia Central and Veolia South East