The hosepipe ban which has been in force in Northern Ireland since June 29 was scheduled to end on Thursday, with no prosecutions having been launched.
Northern Ireland Water said late on Wednesday afternoon that demand for water had dropped back to “near normal levels”, after having previously been running 30% higher than average during the recent hot spell.
As such, it was going to end the ban from noon on July 19.
NI Water had threatened a criminal record and £1,000 fine for anyone falling foul of the ban.
It said that a News Letter investigation which discovered that the ban had no solid legal basis did not play a role in the decision to end it.
NI Water chief executive Sara Venning said that the reduction in demand meant “our water treatment works, which were struggling to meet this exceptional demand, with large scale water supply interruptions imminent, are now coping comfortably”.
However, the risk of more restrictions remains.
Whilst NI Water added that “recent rainfall has been a welcome development”, it had not been enough to “have a positive impact on levels in many of our impounding reservoirs”.
It said: “A continued period without rain will see reservoir levels fall further and may result in the need for additional restrictions.”
The lifting of the ban comes just over a week after News Letter political correspondent Sam McBride identified that the far-reaching nature of it – which included prohibitions on watering a garden, cleaning a car, washing windows, cleaning paths, and filling paddling pools – was based on Great British legislation which had not been extended to cover Northern Ireland.
Essentially, Northern Irish law only specifically allowed for a ban on watering gardens or washing cars, and it would have required either the NI Assembly or Westminster Parliament to alter this.
Asked about this, NI Water said “the legal basis for the ban did not form any part in the decision to rescind it”.
On July 6, the BBC reported that about 140 breaches had been reported to NI Water (which was the body responsible for enforcing the ban, rather than the police).
By July 11, NI Water said the number of breaches was 273, but that “no-one has been penalised” for any breaches.
Then on Wednesday, July 18, it told the News Letter: “Just under 400 breaches were reported.
“There have been no cases where prosecution has been required.
“Our prime objective has never been to prosecute people it has been to protect them from losing their supplies of safe, clean, drinking water.”