We're really sorry to those of you in Sussex who were recently without water.
Demand for water hit levels we have never seen before (see the graph below), and we worked tirelessly to treat enough water to pump into our network to keep taps flowing.
We are now undertaking a full review into what happened and you should receive a letter soon regarding compensation.
If you have any feedback for us on how we could have done better, please click on the link below. Your opinion really counts.
The problems we had were down to the extreme temperatures, and the fact they lasted for a prolonged period. We couldn’t keep up with the huge demand for water. It was already high because of the pandemic – with people working and holidaying at home. Then with the extended heatwave on top of that, we couldn’t treat and pump enough water for everyone.
We’re doing an investigation to understand what we can do better in the future. We’ll publish our report of what we find on our website when it’s finished.
How did you prepare when the heatwave was forecast?
As soon as we knew the weather was going to heat up, we checked all our available treatment works were running at full capacity.
We also got in touch with everyone in the areas likely to be hit the hardest to let them know the weather may affect their water supply. And we asked our customers to only use water for essentials – like hygiene, cooking and drinking.
Why didn’t you put a hosepipe ban on?
We normally ban hosepipes when we don’t have enough water in our reservoirs, rivers or underground aquifers (rock layers that hold water). This time we had enough untreated water – we just couldn’t treat and pump it quickly enough to keep up with the extra demand.
What happened this time shows we may need to change this so we can quickly introduce a temporary ban during things like short-term heatwaves. We’ll be publishing a draft drought plan for consultation in 2021, and your feedback and experiences will help us shape it.
How did you update your customers?
Keeping you up to date effectively was one of our top priorities. We:
- sent texts and emails to the customers we had contact details for
- posted updates on social media
- posted updates on our website and the In Your Area online map
- contacted national and local media, and local councils to reach more people
- hand-delivered letters to people in the worst-affected areas.
It can sometimes be hard to get the information out quickly to everyone who needs it. At the moment, we don’t have email and mobile numbers for all our customers. To add yours, go to southeastwater.co.uk/my-account.
To find out how effectively we communicated about the water shortage this time, we’ll be asking for your feedback. You can fill in our web form at southeastwater.co.uk/talktous or wait for us to email you a survey if we have your email address.
How come other companies didn’t have any problems?
There were several other water companies in the UK whose customers were affected by the heatwave this time, but not in the same way. That’s because water companies work with different resources, landscapes and types of customer. Our region experienced exceptionally hot weather with temperatures above 30c degrees for six days in a row – reported as the longest sustained period of hot weather since records began in 1961.
For example, companies in areas with agricultural land and large gardens, like us, often need to supply a lot of water. But companies that supply cities don’t have as much demand because their customers live in small homes with small, or no, gardens.
We’ll be working with the other water companies affected by the heatwave to see if we can learn anything from them.
What did you do for vulnerable people?
Protecting our vulnerable customers is extremely important to us, and our Priority Services Register (PSR) helps us with that. During the heatwave we proactively delivered more than 30,000 bottles of water straight to our customers on our PSR – often before their water went off.
As well as delivering emergency water, we help people on our register in many different ways – depending on the support they need. To find out more, go to southeastwater.co.uk/psr or call 0333 000 2468.
Why did it take so long to get the water back on?
The demand for water stayed exceptionally high for a prolonged period, and once our pipes are empty it can take time to get them flowing again.
Local storage tanks, which hold our treated water, need to refill enough to get the booster pumps going. Booster pumps help with low or inconsistent water pressure but shut down to protect the equipment when the water runs low. When we’ve treated enough water to get the system flowing, we often need to ‘bleed’ our pipes (release air) before the water reaches our customers.
Why couldn’t you tell me when my water would come back on?
The constant high demand for water made it difficult to predict when we’d get your water flowing again, and we didn’t want to give out false promises or conflicting information.
Why did your water storage not fill up overnight?
When our storage tanks are empty it takes a long time for them to fill up again. The system fills gradually overnight but the constant demand meant water was being taken out as soon as we pumped it in.
To help ease the demand so the tanks could refill, we contacted our customers asking them to only use water for essentials. And our teams worked around the clock to treat and pump water to fill the tanks.
Can you guarantee this won’t happen again?
Once we’ve finished our investigation into what happened, we’ll understand what we might be able to do to stop it happening again.
We’re always working to improve the way we provide water and prevent problems like this. We’ve committed to spending £433 million on upgrading our network over the next five years. We also have a water resources management plan. This helps us plan for housing development up to 60 years in advance so we know there’s going to be enough water for everyone.
We’re now going to review our investment plans for the areas most affected by this heatwave. We’ll check that the plans, and our schedules for them, are still suitable.
Why haven’t you learned anything from 2018?
Although it was a different situation, we learnt a lot from the Beast of the East in 2018.
A key thing we needed to improve last time was how we supported our vulnerable customers and how quickly we set up bottled water stations.
This time, we managed to give out 30,000 bottles of water to our vulnerable customers – often before their water had gone off. We also set up bottled water stations faster and, generally, kept them stocked so everyone could collect the water they needed.
In 2018, we found several ways to improve our engineering so we’re better prepared for incidents like this one. It takes time to design these solutions and get all the environmental and planning approval we need to start work on them. We’re in the middle of that work now, and we hope to make the improvements in the next few years.