UNITED Utilities is stepping up its drought action plan in the wake of the North West’s first hosepipe ban for 14 years.

The ban started on Friday and forecasters predict more dry weather for July and August.

The company has applied to the Environment Agency for a drought permit at Rivington.

If granted, it means that the company can conserve water in the reservoirs by reducing the flows that are released from the reservoirs into the River Yarrow.

John Sanders, United Utilities water regulation and strategy manager, said: “The recent light rain has made little difference to our reservoir stocks which are still continuing to fall.

“We need to plan ahead in case the dry weather continues so that we can conserve reservoir storage.”

There is a legal process to be followed for drought permit applications and people will have the opportunity to make comments about it before the Environment Agency makes its decision.

United Utilities is also encouraging customers to play their part by using water wisely and observing the hosepipe ban.

Anyone caught breaking the hosepipe ban could be fined up to £1,000.

Mr Sanders added: “We need to balance the needs of our customers with the needs of the environment.

"If everyone can use water wisely we can all help to maintain supplies and keep rivers flowing.

“At the start of the year our reservoirs were full but because of the low rainfall they are now well down for the time of year.

“We have taken early action to move water around the region to even out supplies and we are also bringing groundwater reserves into use.”

The company’s tips for saving water include taking showers instead of baths, turning off the tap between brushing teeth and only running washing machines and dishwashers with a full load.

Customers can also request a free water saver pack, which includes a save-a-flush device to cut water use by a litre every time you flush the toilet, by visiting the website www.unitedutilities.co.uk.