Households across Reading, the UK’s biggest town, have been without water for three days after water mains burst in the cold weather.
An incident at the Pangbourne water treatment works meant that water pressure dropped across the town on Saturday. Thames Water, which has its headquarters in Reading, said that subsequent pipe bursts then made it impossible to increase water pressure to homes, meaning some people have been without water for days. Emergency bottled water stations have been set up in the affected areas. On Monday, some schools and offices were forced to close as the low water pressure meant it was unsafe to stay open.
Hundreds of homes in south London also reported having no water over the weekend after leaks across the network caused shortages. This is despite heavy rain falling over recent days.
Water companies are preparing to announce steep bill price rises for customers. Thames Water, according to reports, wants to raise bills by 20% in the coming years to pay for infrastructure improvements after public outcry over sewage spills and leaky pipes.
Water companies have failed to replace leaky pipes, which are many decades old. Analysis has shown that it would take English water companies 2,000 years to replace their pipes to get them up to standard at current rates. Analysis of Water UK data from 2021 by the Angling Trust found that on average, water companies replace 0.05% of their water and wastewater pipe networks a year. Most European countries replace their water and wastewater pipes at about 0.5% a year.
Alok Sharma, the MP for Reading West, apologised to his constituents and said he was in talks with senior managers of Thames Water. He said: “So sorry that constituents continue to experience problems with water supply. Have just spoken to a senior manager at Thames Water who says they are working hard to restore pressure.”
Jason Brock, the leader of Reading borough council and Reading Labour, said the communication with residents had been poor. He told Reading Today: “Their support to, and communication with, residents has been unacceptably poor. Residents understandably feel that Thames Water simply don’t care about them.”
Lib Dem environment spokesperson Tim Farron MP said: “This is a complete farce. Thames Water’s new CEO should write to every person affected with compensation and a grovelling apology. It begs the question just how bad a state is the infrastructure they get paid to maintain? It’s time they stopped spending millions of pounds on bonuses and dividends, and instead focused on the basics.”
A Thames Water spokesperson said: “We’re really sorry to customers in the Reading, Pangbourne, Tilehurst and nearby areas who continue to experience low water pressure.
“We have over nine tankers supplying water in the area to meet demand and improve water pressure. We also have over 50 engineers in the area fixing leaks and removing airlocks from our network. Teams are also repairing over 10 burst water mains, following the cold weather last week.
“We expect water pressure to improve in the coming days as we carry out repairs and as reservoir levels increase, following a technical issue at Pangbourne water treatment works, which was resolved on Saturday.”