Thames Water is being accused of repeatedly ignoring warnings of supply disruptions and pipe bursts in Surrey, where hundreds of households had to go without tap water for three days during the heatwave this weekend.
Residents, including the vulnerable, had to queue for bottled water on Saturday in temperatures well above 30°C (86F) after a pump failure at the Netley Mill treatment plant.
By Sunday morning, up to 1,000 homes have been without water for the third day. Water supply was restored to about 9,000 homes, but many households continued to complain about low water pressure.
Thames Water issued an apology and confirmed that it was distributing bottled water to residents of Guildford, Surrey Hills, Dorking and Horsham while engineers worked to restore supply.
Liz Townsend, the Liberal Democrat councilor for Cranley and Euhurst County, called on Thames Water to be fined for the incident and said the company failed to respond to numerous complaints about previous supply cuts.
“We are completely angry,” she said. “Last summer we had a period where there was only bottled water. We didn’t have water in February during a storm, we didn’t have water during the previous hot period in early July. And now it’s hot again, and we have no water.
“Our water infrastructure is not resilient enough to handle all the new housing and aging pipes. Whenever they pressurize the system, we get more and more spikes. I’ve been negotiating with Thames Water for 10 years now and have been to Westminster several times to pick it up, but no one pays attention to it.”
Townsend wrote to Sarah Bentley, chief executive of Thames Water, in July following a previous supply interruption. The letter, seen by the Guardian, accuses the company of taking months, and in some cases years, to repair burst pipes and says it has violated a public obligation to provide residents with up-to-date water supply information.
Bentley has not yet responded.
Thames Water said in a statement: “The Netley Mill water treatment plant is back online and water supply to the local network is gradually being restored. This will continue until the end of the day. We are very sorry that customers were affected, especially during high temperatures.
“When consumables start to come back, we ask customers to first try to use them for essential purposes only. This will help us get supplies back to everyone faster. We supply bottled water to customers who we know need extra help. If someone is unable to come to the bottled water point, they should contact us on 0800 316 9800 and we will assist.”
Cranly is the last village to run out of water after the official drought was declared in eight districts of England. Dozens of households in Northend, Oxfordshire have relied solely on bottled water for the past five days.
Townsend said: “On Saturday there was no water for [between] 8000 and 9000 houses. We have a stream this morning. But between 500 and 1,000 households are still without water.”
Residents were told problems with getting water from the well meant two local reservoirs were completely empty and a third was only a quarter full.
Townsend said Thames Water’s handling of the crisis was appalling. She said bottled water was not sent to some vulnerable people on the priority list, and farmers did not have water for their livestock.
She added: “There should be financial sanctions. If they don’t deliver water, people should get reimbursed. We have thousands and thousands of new homes in the area, and yet the basic water supply infrastructure is not able to keep up with the current number of homes.”
Townsend also called for the re-nationalization of bankrupt water companies.
“It’s such a valuable and dwindling resource that perhaps we should consider using the public ownership model for water,” she said.
Three water companies – Welsh Water, Southern Water and South East Water – have introduced a hose ban, while Yorkshire Water has announced the ban will go into effect on August 26 and Thames Water plans to implement it in the coming weeks.
An amber heat warning remains in effect Sunday across much of the South, East, West, Midlands and North of England for its fourth day.
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