Thames Water concedes mistakes were made in Cotswold floods

Water firm concedes it can do better in floods

Water firm concedes it can do better in floods

First published in News by

"IN SOME instances we did well and in some instances we did terribly" – Thames Water reflects on its response to the 2012 floods.

In parts of the Cotswolds the widespread floods of November and December last year are still visible.

Certainly the damage that was caused and the fear that every rainfall brings is prevalent, particularly in the hard-hit areas of Cirencester and South Cerney.

Throughout the floods, criticism has been levied by residents and local authorities on Thames Water for failing to take action and offer support to their customers in a time of need.

Thames Water spokesman Simon Evans told the Standard it was an extremely challenging time for the company and admitted mistakes were made.

"In an event or instance like we had at the end of December, we can get very focused on the operational stuff like getting tankers to the right areas at the right time," Mr Evans said. "Sometimes we can forget to talk to people, keep people informed and explain what is happening."

To date the flooding has cost Thames Water in the region of £4.5m, with £3.1m of this cost relating to December.

Mr Evans said the problems started more than two years ago, when the company was attempting to tackle problems caused by the two driest years on record.

Widespread hosepipe bans were put in place by Thames Water in April 2012 to combat the drought, which had caused groundwater levels to drop off to their lowest levels since 1976.

"Pretty much as soon as we imposed the ban it started to rain," Mr Evans said. "Then it kept on raining and raining."

The ban was lifted in June, but by then groundwater levels were rapidly rising and the rain continued to fall.

Mr Evans said that by November the ground was like a soaked sponge with nowhere for water to go except into the sewers.

He added: "Rivers were bursting their banks and going into our sewage networks which are not designed to take river water and they just couldn’t cope."

He said over November and December, demand for equipment, such as tankers to pump away floodwater, was high across the country and companies were scrambling to secure additional resources from independent contractors.

"We had to decide who needed a tanker and who didn’t – that’s a tough choice to make," he explained, saying the company remained on tenterhooks.

"It sounds strange for a water company to say we hope it doesn’t rain but that’s where we are right now," he said.

"We’re very delicately balanced – rivers are still running high, so any substantial amount of rain and there’s a potential for us to be back where we were."

Now Thames Water is carrying out a review of the November and December floods to find areas for improvement, should disaster strike again.

In Cirencester and South Cerney, many residents complained to the Standard that the company ignored their cries for help and they were left in the dark about what action would be taken to tackle sewer flooding.

During December, calls to Thames Water’s customer service centre nearly doubled at around 7,800 wastewater-related calls per day.

"There was an awful lot of pressure on our call centre," Mr Evans said. "But customer communication and just keeping people informed is something we need to work on.

"Sewer flooding is utterly horrific and we never lose sight of that.

"We do sympathise with people. But if it felt like we didn’t in the thick of the action over the festive period then we are sorry."

• Damage caused by flooding should be dealt with by homeowners’ insurance companies. If homeowners believe the damage is due to negligence or the failure of Thames Water networks, call 0845 9200 800. Each claim will be dealt with on a case by case basis.

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