Water outages drain South East

Residents in Tunbridge Wells, along with thousands of others in the South East, found themselves without water last week. South East Water blamed the outages on an increased demand for water during the hot weather, however there were reports of burst pipes and water mains, and other leaking infrastructure across the region.

The outages began on Sunday June 11, and affected customers across Kent and Sussex. It resulted in the closure of a number of schools, including Claremont Primary and St James’ Primary School in Tunbridge Wells.

As a consequence, South East Water announced a string of roadworks in order to repair and upgrade its water supply network. This included a burst water main in Hall’s Hole Road, which was closed until Monday June 19.

The outages resulted in an “exceptional increase” in water demand and prompted South East Water to announce a hosepipe ban in Kent and Sussex from June 26.

The water company said it had “been left with no choice but to restrict the use of hosepipes and sprinklers… until further notice”.

A £1,000 fine will be imposed for those breaking the rules.

South East Water said demand had peaked at 678 million litres last week, while the “little rain” contributed to the limited capacity.

However, it has been pointed out that reservoirs in Kent and Sussex were at high capacity, with Bewl Water at 98 per cent. There has also been significant rainfall since the weekend.

In his Times column this week (see page 14) Greg Clark MP says: “South East Water has now introduced a hosepipe ban not because it doesn’t have enough water… but because the infrastructure is not adequate to get the water from the reservoir to customers.

“That is not good enough. Although last week was warm, it was no more than we experience most summers. In my view it shows up the lack of resilience of the water system on which we rely.

South East Water’s CEO David Hinton said: “This situation has developed much more rapidly than last year.

“Understandably, we’ve seen customer demand increase in line with the hotter weather, however, this has impacted our ability to keep all customers in supply at all times.

“Despite asking for customers’ help to use water for essential uses only, regrettably we’ve now been left with no choice but to introduce this temporary use ban restriction to protect customers’ supplies across Kent and Sussex.

“The long-term forecast for the rest of the summer is for a dry period with little rainfall, although temperatures may reduce slightly.

“Restricting the use of hosepipes and sprinklers to make sure we have enough water for our customers’ essential use will ensure we can serve our vulnerable customers and to protect the local environment.”

In their performance statement on leakage, South East Water said they lost 92 million litres a day on a three-year rolling average in 2021/22.

This is a 3.3 per cent leak reduction on their baseline of 95.1 million litres a day.

For exceeding its target, South East Water was awarded £1.023million for its “outperformance”.

Almost 2,000 residents in the neighbouring villages of Crowborough, Rotherfield, Mayfield and Wadhurst may disagree with this performance assessment.

Wadhurst which was voted the ‘Best place to live 2023’ by the Sunday Times experienced severe outages, with no water to the rural village for more than a week.

Wadhurst resident Debbie Peaford told the Times: “Wadhurst is a town of 7,000 people, with the majority of them elderly and vulnerable.

“This water problem has become a regular occurrence over the last six years, with two major incidents in the last six months. It is not good enough.

“The water pressure went off on Sunday [June 11] and the temperature got up to 32 degrees, and then people started to panic.

Ms Peaford explained that the nearest bottled water stations were a 20-minute drive away in either Mayfield or Rotherfield.

“How can they ask elderly people who can’t drive to walk miles in the heat to then drag back a case of water?”

“People also can’t flush the toilets so [South East Water] have suggested using poop bags like dogs and then throwing it away.”

A petition which has gained almost 1,000 signatures is demanding that ownership of South East Water should change after “failing to deliver essential water”.

The petition was started by Wadhurst resident Jutta Wrobel. She told the Times: “We have been left without water for five days and this has to stop. It is a scandal.

“It is not the outrage at the lack of water but how [South East Water] are not doing anything and are incompetent.

“I started the petition because I didn’t know what else to do. I just wanted to make some noise and hoped it would be picked up by the right people.

“There needs to be regulations and sanctions on companies like this, they need to be held accountable.”

South East Water has been approached for comment.

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