British weather has always had four distinct seasons - wet, pouring, drizzly and raining cats and dogs. So it seems odd that Britain is now heading for its worst drought in decades, with some southern areas already banning the use of garden hosepipes and sprinklers. London could follow soon. After the UK's second-driest winter in a century, the reservoirs are almost empty, the Thames cannot be tapped for any more drinking water, and the boreholes are nearly drained. This has prompted Thames Water Utilities to open its emergency aquifer and pump 200 million litres a day to stave off restrictions. Mayor Ken Livingstone recently urged Londoners to save water by not flushing the loo after 'just a pee'. He also called on Londoners to have showers, not baths, leave cars dirty, turn off dishwashers, not leave taps running while brushing teeth, and use washing-up water to feed plants. Such talk has rekindled memories of the parched summer of 1976, when Londoners formed queues at street standpipes for rationed water. Baths were quarter-filled or even shared, for the common good, of course; no one flushed the toilet for a week; lawns yellowed, plants died; and pools went empty. But few are willing to make such sacrifices this year. People have more to lose. Water consumption is up by 70 per cent since 1976, fuelled by more dishwashers, pools, second bathrooms and more cars to clean. Besides, the water utilities have been privatised, milking huge profits despite vast waste. While the utilities warned of shortages, their directors' bonuses trebled to GBP615,000 ($8.4 million). Enemy No1 is Thames Water. Although London has less water per capita than Madrid and Istanbul, 946 million litres of treated water a day leak through crumbling Victorian mains. Heading off attacks, Thames has pledged to renew 1,367km of mains in five years. It is a good start, but a drop in the ocean, nonetheless. If the water rationing of 1976 returns - and it will if another dry winter follows - then artist Mark McGowan will be public enemy No2. His installation The Running Tap aims to leave a tap on for a year, wasting 56 million litres of water. Thames has asked him to recycle the water, but he says it would destroy his message that society is 'wasteful': a predictable sentiment from a chap who once pushed a nut along the road with his nose for 11km to No10 Downing Street. With plans to build 1 million new homes in London and the southeast over the next decade, the once-unthinkable is becoming accepted: some 60 per cent of Londoners now back water meters, which would mean paying for actual water usage rather than a flat fee. Well, it beats not flushing.