APRIL 5, 2012: Millions of householders across southern and eastern England are banned from using hosepipes as drought grips parts of the country.

20 million people face a �1,000 fine if they defy hosepipe bans, introduced after one of driest two-year periods on record. Seven water companies are introducing 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. Thames Water, Southern Water, South East Water, Anglian Water, Sutton and East Surrey, Veolia Central and Veolia Southeast are bringing in the restrictions, affecting about 20 million people. Customers will no longer be able 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 affected. The firms insist the bans are necessary to preserve essential water supplies and protect the environment, in the face of a drought that has left groundwater below 1976 levels in some places and rivers running dry. Despite some rain in the past few days, March was another dry month and the whole of the south-east and East Anglia and parts of Yorkshire are officially in a state of drought.

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