Thames Water has been accused of repeatedly ignoring warnings about supply cuts and bursting pipes in Surrey, where hundreds of households endured three days without tap water at the height of the heatwave in this week-end.
Residents, including some who were vulnerable, had to queue for bottled water on Saturday in temperatures well over 30C (86F) after a pump failure at the water treatment plant Netley Mill.
On Sunday morning, up to 1,000 households entered a third day without water. The supply was restored to up to 9,000 homes, but many households still complained of low water pressure.
Thames Water has apologized and confirmed it has distributed bottled water to residents of Guildford, Surrey Hills, Dorking and Horsham while engineers work to restore supplies.
Cranleigh and Ewhurst County Liberal Democrat Councilor Liz Townsend called for Thames Water to be fined over the incident and said the company had failed to respond to numerous complaints about earlier supply cuts.
“We are absolutely exasperated,” she said. “We had a period last summer when there was only bottled water. We had no water in February during the storm, we had no water during the previous hot period in early July. And now another heat wave and we’re out of water.
“Our water infrastructure is not resilient enough to cope with all the new housing and aging pipes. Every time they increase the pressure in the system, we get more and more bursts. I’ve been in talks with Thames Water for 10 years, and I’ve been to Westminster several times to talk about it, but nobody notices.
Townsend wrote to Sarah Bentley, chief executive of Thames Water, in July after a previous supply disruption. The letter, seen by the Guardian, accused the company of taking months, and in some cases years, to repair burst pipes and said it had reneged on its public commitment to provide residents with updates on the water supply.
Bentley has yet to respond.
A statement from Thames Water said: ‘The water treatment facilities at Netley Mill are now back in service and supply is gradually being restored to the local network. This will continue for the rest of the day. We are very sorry that customers have been impacted, especially during hot weather.
“When supplies start to come back, we ask customers to try to use it only for essential use initially. This will help us get supplies back to everyone faster. We provide bottled water to customers who we know need extra help. If anyone is unable to get to a bottled water site they should contact us on 0800 316 9800 and we will provide assistance.
Cranleigh is the latest village to run out of water after an official drought was declared in eight regions of England. Dozens of households in Northend, Oxfordshire, have relied only on bottled water for the past five days.
Townsend said: “There was no water on Saturday for [between] 8,000 and 9,000 homes. We have a net this morning. But between 500 and 1,000 homes are still without water.
Residents were told that problems extracting water from a borehole meant that two local reservoirs were completely empty and a third was only a quarter full.
Townsend said Thames Water’s handling of the crisis had been appalling. She said some vulnerable people on the priority list had not received bottled water and farmers had no water for livestock.
She added: “There should be financial penalties. If they don’t deliver water, people should be reimbursed. We have thousands and thousands of new homes coming into this area, yet the basic water infrastructure cannot now keep up with the number of existing homes. »
Townsend also called for the renationalisation of failing water companies.
“It’s such a precious and non-reductive resource that maybe we should consider having more of a public ownership model for water,” she said.
Three water companies – Welsh Water, Southern Water and South East Water – have all imposed watering bans, while Yorkshire Water has announced a ban will start on August 26 and Thames Water is planning one in the coming weeks .
An orange weather warning for extreme heat remained in place on Sunday for much of the south, east, west, Midlands and north of England for a fourth day.