Heat on Thames Water as half of Haslemere left without water

By Daniel Gee   |   Head of Content   |
Thursday 4th June 2020 10:01 am
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One of Thames Water's tankers in Scotland Lane (Photo: Nikki Barton) ()

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HALF of Haslemere was robbed of its water supply this week – with Thames Water blaming record levels of demand on water supplies, councillors blaming an influx of housing in recent years, and workmen reportedly blaming the wildfire at Thursley.

The fault was first noticed on Saturday, but by Sunday evening much of Haslemere had been left with no water – and a low pressure for those homes that had it.

This was a consequence of the Blackdown reservoir running empty, in a repeat of the widespread water shortages last witnessed in the town in 2018.

For Robert Knowles, the borough councillor for Haslemere East, it was clear where the blame lies – housing – and a long-term solution was now long overdue.

“As two years ago, the reservoir is not big enough to cope in hot weather,” he said.

“I have spoken in committee at Waverley and to officers, as is it not acceptable to build more homes when the water supply is not adequate to cope in dry periods. It is Third World to be without water so often – the last time this went on for some three weeks.”

But according to one resident of Three Gates Lane, who didn’t want to be named, a Thames Water official reported water supplies were running low as a result of fire crews fighting the heathland fire at Thursley Common.

In a statement prepared for the Herald, the utility company did confirm that demand on the reservoir was at an "all-time high", but stopped short of blaming the Thursley fire for exacerbating the problem.

A Thames Water spokesman said: “We’re sorry to anyone who may have been experiencing low pressure or water outages. We appreciate that not having running water is a big inconvenience, especially during the recent hot weather.

“We’re using a tanker to pump additional water into the system to meet the extra demand but, at peak times, this demand is at an all-time high. Because of the hot weather and lockdown, customers in some areas are using water faster than it can be safely treated and pumped through the underground network of pipes to their homes.

“Making every drop count inside and outside our homes by taking shorter showers, turning off sprinklers and reusing water where possible, means we can all help keep taps flowing in our communities so everyone can still have access to water for the essentials like hand washing and staying hydrated.

"With millions of homes using more water every day, being water efficient in the garden and inside the home will really help us ensure there’s enough to go around.”

Thames Water is coming under pressure to find a long-term solution from councillors and South West Surrey MP, Jeremy Hunt, who has dubbed the water outages as “totally unacceptable”.

In a tweet posted over the weekend, Mr Hunt added he had asked Thames Water to take “urgent action” to resolve the problem – with many people having no water since 6pm on Saturday.

“At the very least they should be supplying bottled water to affected residents,” Mr Hunt said.

It seems Thames Water did heed this request, with a drive-through bottle station established at Grayswood Village Hall earlier this week.

And on Tuesday evening, Thames Water stationed tankers at various points around the town, to pump water into the homes that had been without water for three days.

County councillor Nikki Barton confirmed Thames Water launched a “two-pronged attack on the problem” – unloading tankers full of water at the reservoir on Blackdown and also emptying tankers directly into the system on Scotland Lane, to “take the pressure off the reservoir so it has time to fill”.

She added this approach would continue, with tankers coming from Godalming, “all day and night until the problem is resolved”.

Cllr Barton said: “Half of Haslemere continues to be without water while Thames Water ferries tankers to top up the reservoir to try to restore supplies to our homes.

“This is not the first time Haslemere has run out water, and is a wake-up call that key infrastructure issues – like the supply of water – must be addressed before Haslemere can take the hundreds of new houses imposed on the town by central government.

“Clearly significant investment is going to be required – central government must take the lead, utility companies must legally be required to fulfil their obligations.

“Climate change, with more frequent extreme weather events, will exacerbate the fragility of our water supply. Action must be taken as a matter of urgency.”

Mayor John Robini has been leading the town council and Waverley Borough Council response – and is arranging a meeting with Thames Water, the chief executive of Waverley and others to try to look at the long-term solution.

A spokesman for Waverley said: "Waverley Borough Council was made aware of water shortages in Haslemere over the weekend and escalated residents’ concerns to the relevant authorities.

“Due to the continuous spells of water shortages in the Haslemere and Cranleigh areas, the council is setting up two meetings with Thames Water and local councillors in a bid to highlight concerns from the council and its residents, identify possible solutions to overcome these and determine action to be taken.”

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