The exceptionally cold spell last week and the rapid thaw that followed has caused widespread water supply issues in the country. Over the weekend and at the start of the week tens of thousands of people across the south-east of England have experienced loss of water supply in their homes and even more have had to cope with low water pressure following leaks from burst pipes. We recognise that this has been a difficult time for many residents and businesses.
The immediate priority is to get water back up and running for those people who have been affected, in particular vulnerable people, and businesses, hospitals and care homes. Water companies have been following standard practice including isolating bursts and redirecting water to mitigate this problem. Bottled water has been provided in the areas most badly affected and water has been provided by tanker to keep hospitals open.
Today I have chaired a meeting of water company chief executives, OFWAT and Water UK to make sure that water companies in England are working to restore supplies as quickly as possible, and that water companies in other parts of the country are preparing for the thaw as it spreads across the country, including learning any lessons from places that have already experienced higher temperatures.
The challenge the sector faces is the sheer number of bursts following the rapid change in weather across multiple companies’ networks. Many of these have been relatively small and difficult to detect; some of the loss of pressure is due to leaks in private homes and businesses.
Water companies have been working hard to address the issues. This includes increasing their staff on the ground out identifying where bursts have occurred and repairing them, as well as moving water across their networks to balance supply across the areas they serve. We should recognise the efforts of the engineers and all involved working through the night to fix these problems. Once the situation is restored to normal we expect OFWAT to review the performance of the companies during this period.
This Government actively support a properly regulated water sector. We have high expectations of water companies on increasing their investment in their water and sewerage networks. This was laid out clearly in the strategic policy statement issued to OFWAT last September, and reinforced by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs last week when he addressed the water industry and said that he expects the industry to increase investment and to improve services by maintaining a resilient network, fixing leaks promptly where they occur and preparing for severe weather.