The taps run dry in Much Wenlock again

Just as the Bank Holiday weekend started in Much Wenlock, the water stopped coming out of the taps. Severn Trent Water started injecting water from road tankers into the local system at the corner of Forester Avenue and Barrow street, ensuring sleepless nights for local residents. Three-way traffic lights meant that vehicles were stopping and starting frequently.

It soon became clear that folk living in elevated properties, such as the top of Oakfield Park and in outlying communities such as Stretton Westwood and Homer were experiencing dry taps. Severn Trent sent automated ‘phone messages to local residents advising them of the problem.

Interestingly, a parish councillor sent me a message saying: “…these automated calls from Severn Trent cause much alarm and distress to the elderly and vulnerable in rural areas. The messages even sound like a scam call, press 1 for the message etc. I’ve spent a lot of time reassuring vulnerable residents but I have to say I agree with them. Severn Trent need to look at their procedures and come up with something different, more direct and informative, not a press 1 type system.”

I’m not on a mains water supply, so I was a little behind the curve, but I made contact with Severn Trent. The response came back from STW’s Area Operations Manager that, as a result of COVID-19, demand had been “uneven”, which I thought was something of a weak excuse from a company whose primary purpose is to shift water, clean and dirty, over a wide area of England. He admitted that STW has been “caught on the hop” and had to move fast to inject water into the network. He undertook to consider further injections at the hydrant point on the Broseley Road up towards The Bellhole. He said he’d get a letter out to residents and to use social media to provide an update. I think that part of that intention was fulfilled. He hoped not to have to be using the tankers at night and did make some reference to acoustic barriers they could erect. 

Then, on Thursday 28th May in the evening it became apparent that the single pump serving the tankers failed. In the case of some residents, this was the third incident of no water in a week and the concern was, of course, exacerbated by many people being unable to leave the house because of concerns for their health and the government COVID-19 guidelines. Many of those that could get out were buying bottled water that evening.

If this was the first time, some residents might be forgiving, but it isn’t. At the end of June and the early days of July 2018, most Much Wenlock residents suffered spells of partial or complete loss of water supply. Unusually sustained hot weather then exposed a significant problem with Severn Trent Water’s infrastructure and with their contingency arrangements. It has also revealed that STW’s communication with its customers could be vastly improved although, over the period, messaging did improve. Regrettably, those lessons seem to have been forgotten.

I invited a STW representative to a public meeting in the town in August 2018. Steve Allmark represented Severn Trent Water, listened to concerns, and endeavoured to explain where the problems lay. He offered hope that there would be investment in the infrastructure and undertook to follow up concerns and come back with some answers in due course. So far as I’m aware, that didn’t happen.

Plainly STW’s priority now is to ensure that clean water is reaching all properties in the area. We need uninterrupted water supply.

Last week I wrote to STW asking for a meeting to discuss this failure. I assume that Severn Trent has some sophisticated weather forecasting and , hopefully, an associated demand forecast, so I’m therefore very disappointed that we’ve been let down again by our water company.