No water – again

On Monday evening, 25th June,  the first sign of water supply problems became apparent.  Severn Trent Water (STW) said they’d got a problem with a piece of equipment on one of their service reservoirs that was causing low pressure or no supply. They said they’d got engineers on the ground working on it. This didn’t cause too much alarm amongst local residents, although the very warm weather meant that demand was high. Homer households seemed to be especially badly hit. The Spar and NISA stores sold out of bottles of water quickly.

Local residents were quick to advise STW that there was a burst pipe at the bottom of Havelock Crescent and the road was flooding. STW dealt with problem overnight. This didn’t seem to be related to the water supply problem.

Havelock Crescent, Monday evening

Tuesday dawned with few apparent problems, except in Homer. Then in the evening, shortly after 8pm, the supply problems started again but this time far more widespread than the previous day. Oakfield Park, Stretton Road, Walton Hills, St Mary’s Road, Southfield Road, Hodgecroft, High Street and Farley Road were amongst the places with little or no water.

Elderly and vulnerable residents (young and old) are especially affected by such a problem. I took one phone call from a worried local resident at 10:40pm! Tuesday evening was very lively with local residents taking to social media to report their problems and to check on the latest news. I was in touch with Shropshire Council’s emergency planning unit (EPU) duty officer throughout the evening, with their last email to me arriving at 11:50pm. As I followed the progress of the problem and action being taken to resolve it, I noticed the banner at the top of STW’s Twitter feed (below). “Wonderful On Tap” was certainly not the case in Much Wenlock!

You couldn’t make it up!

On Wednesday 27th STW told me “We’ve been in contact with the local resilience forum this morning and we’re working with them to deliver bottled water to our most vulnerable customers in the area.” I suggested on my Facebook page that it might be a good idea for local residents to check on elderly and vulnerable neighbours.

In the evening, in response to growing concerns from local residents, STW said “We’ve been using a fleet of tankers to ensure that supplies held despite the extremely high demand as a result of the hot weather but, unfortunately, we’ve now run into a technical problem. I can assure you that we’re doing everything we can to get this sorted as we know just how difficult it must be for everyone in the town.”  It certainly was difficult – warm weather and, for some residents, the third night without running water.

I contacted STW, saying “….be aware that residents’ patience is wearing very thin and so is their belief in the assurances you’re giving them”. They responded quickly, saying “We are very aware. I’ve highlighted the issue to the very top of the organisation….”. At midnight, STW said they were going to be delivering bottled water to vulnerable customers (on their Priority Services Register) overnight and they’d be setting up a precautionary bottled water site in the town on Thursday morning.

Helping with bottled water supplies

Thursday morning heard me speaking about the problem on BBC Radio Shropshire, saying STW have had too many false dawns for people to be reassured by their assertions. Bottled water was to be at William Brookes School from about 9:30am – I thought that Severn Trent daren’t risk another night of dry taps.

On Friday morning 28th, the bottled water station moved to Falcons Court car park, but most folk didn’t know about it. So I went home and made some small posters pointing folk in the right direction.

Pointer poster

While the traffic lights were still in place at the end of Barrow Street, everything seemed to settle down until 4th July, when local residents reported a 30′ water spout! Again I understood from a local resident that STW were dishing out bottled water on Falcons Court car park.

Barrow Street traffic lights

Then on 9th July STW were in touch yet again advising that some customers in the Much Wenlock area may experience issues with their water supply that evening.  This was a result of a pump failure at one of STW’s service reservoirs late in the afternoon. And then on 11th July four tankers were seen in Barrow Street, although I received no reports of water supply problems from residents.

STW tankers prepared to “inject” the water main

So Much Wenlock residents had to endure water supply problems for 2½ weeks this summer, and hopefully, we’ve now seen the back of them. All I’ve been able to find out about the cause of the problem is that water is being pumped to Much Wenlock from Telford. This is due to ongoing issues with leaks in Wenlock, hence why our reservoir has not been used for a while. There is talk of relining the bore holes in the park, but this should have been done years ago.

It appears that STW have a major problem with their infrastructure in Wenlock, and their contingency arrangements don’t seem to be good enough. On top of that, their communication has been poor – although in fairness, over the 2½ weeks of this problem it improved. We had hoped lessons had been learned following the major burst last September, when Much Wenlock was without water for several days, but it seems not.

Our MP, Philip Dunne, has taken a keen interest in the plight of residents suffering dry taps in Much Wenlock. He’s undertaken to take up this issue when he meets their Chief Executive in a few weeks time, so we await the outcome of their discussions.

In the meantime, the Local Joint Committees meet at The Edge Arts Centre on Tuesday 7th August. I consider it something of a coup that I’ve managed to persuade STW to field a speaker to tell us about what’s gone wrong and what they’re going to do to put it right. Please make a note on your calendar to come along at 7pm. You’ll be able to hear about NHS Future Fit and have an update from our local police team as well.