Thames Water chief executive update

Last reviewed:

Steve Robertson

Thames Water has now been able to restore supplies to the vast majority of its affected customers. There’s plenty of water in the network and any remaining air locks are associated with individual properties. The company’s repair teams have been working around the clock to find and shut off the leaks that have been affecting the capital’s water network since the big freeze and rapid thaw.

Steve Robertson, Thames Water’s CEO, said: “We are pleased to have made good progress with restoring supplies today, but very sorry that some of our customers are still without water or have low pressure, in some cases after several days. We are in no doubt about how distressing and inconvenient this is for everyone affected. We have been working flat out around the clock to get things back to normal – 131 repair gangs and 144 specialist network technicians are still working on our network, resolving the remaining problems and moving water around to where it is needed.

“We have now repaired the vast majority of the high priority leaks and bursts in London, and storage levels in our network are increasing. I am pleased to say that customers in NW3 and NW4 have seen things return to normal this morning The remaining problems, particularly in SW16, have mostly been due to air that has become trapped in the system as we have refilled our pipes and moved water around. We have been finding and removing these airlocks as fast as possible. This involves opening fire hydrant valves to release air and get water flowing properly, but we needed to do this very carefully to avoid creating additional bursts or other problems.

“I know that customers have been urgently seeking more and better information on the problems in their area. In current circumstances we have not been able to reply individually to every social media contact we have received, but we are keeping our website updated and continue to have every available customer agent answering phones in our operational call centres. We cannot always tell our customers what they want to know most – which is exactly when their water will be back to normal – since our underground network is vast and complex and the damage caused by the sharp freeze and sudden thaw has been substantial in several areas of the capital. What I can say with certainty is that every effort has been made to get things back to normal for everyone as quickly as possible.

“For a second day running, demand for water during busy periods has been lower than expected and we remain really grateful to our customers who have water for continuing to help out by using as little as possible and for their general understanding. We would also ask customers to be especially vigilant for any leaks in their neighbourhood, particularly in empty houses or commercial premises. Large volumes of water are still being lost through burst pipes – such as garden taps – and finding them and shutting them all off is a priority.”

Key numbers and background information

  • The freeze and thaw has caused a huge increase in burst pipes of all sorts – in our network, in commercial premises and in our customers’ homes. It’s also as much to do with water temperature inside the pipes as it is ground temperature.
  • We have ramped up production of water from our treatment works to try and match the surge in demand, putting an extra 500 million litres per day into supply. That’s 25% above normal and equivalent to 200 Olympic swimming pools.
  • Before the freezing conditions and snow, we had prepared carefully for the adverse weather in detail, with 155 4x4 vehicles, snow ploughs, grit and extra teams braced across the key operational sites expected to be most impacted. The biggest challenge last week, however, was enabling staff to travel around the region because of icy or closed roads, and treacherous driving conditions, which caused delays reaching customers.