Oxfordshire village runs dry as drought leaves residents relying on bottled water

·3 min read
Thames Water workers delivered bottled water to villagers in Northend - Geoffrey Swaine/Shutterstock
Thames Water workers delivered bottled water to villagers in Northend - Geoffrey Swaine/Shutterstock

A village in Oxfordshire has become the first place in Britain to run dry in the latest heatwave, forcing residents to rely on deliveries of bottled and tanker water.

Northend, which straddles the border with Buckinghamshire, is supplied by the Stokenchurch Reservoir, which ran dry as demand spiked during hot weather.

Thames Water, which operates in the area, sent water tankers and handed out bottles to residents. It said it had also faced technical problems with a pump at the reservoir.

It came as the company announced that it would bring in a hosepipe ban for its 15 million customers across London, Surrey and Gloucestershire in the “coming weeks” as the dry weather left a dent in its water supplies.

Thames Water has one of the worst records on leaks in the country, losing around 600 million litres a day – around 24 per cent of its supply – prompting warnings on Tuesday that a hosepipe ban could be ignored by customers.

“I can absolutely understand why somebody would ask why they would face a fine of £1,000 when Thames is leaking hundreds of millions a day from its creaking network,” Feargal Sharkey, the water campaigner, said.

Parched parts of southern England face hosepipe bans amid very dry conditions and ahead of another predicted heatwave - Aaron Chown/PA
Parched parts of southern England face hosepipe bans amid very dry conditions and ahead of another predicted heatwave - Aaron Chown/PA

Prof Hannah Cloke, of the University of Reading, said: “Water companies need to get their act together in fixing leaks faster and showing that they are making progress, or they will face issues similar to those of the Government in enforcing lockdown rules during the pandemic.”

The Met Office on Tuesday issued an amber warning for extreme heat in swathes of the country until Sunday, with temperatures expected to reach as high as 36C in some places. Temperatures are expected to hit the mid-20s elsewhere.

The heat is expected to bring delays to travel and an increased risk of wildfires and water accidents. The body of a 14-year-old boy was found on Tuesday after he went swimming at a lake in Hertfordshire. Around 70 firefighters were called to a fire on the M25 in north London.

River campaigners have warned that the country’s waterways face a dire situation as they dry up, leaving pollution even more concentrated.

“We are in an emergency and we all have to do our part,” said Stuart Singleton-White, of the Angling Trust. “But we have got to ask serious questions about how we have arrived here.”

Thames Water will follow the introduction of hosepipe bans already announced for millions of customers by Southern Water, South East Water and Welsh Water when it brings in restrictions in the coming weeks.

The South East is facing the toughest restrictions after it experienced the driest start to the year since 1976, with no rain forecast in the coming days.

An official drought could be announced as early as this week, ahead of a meeting on Friday between the water companies, farmers and the Government. Most of England is currently in prolonged dry status, one step before an official drought.

Thames Water said on Tuesday: “Given the long-term forecast of dry weather and another forecast of very hot temperatures coming this week, we are planning to announce a temporary use ban in the coming weeks.

“We have written to the Environment Agency to update them on our approach, and informed Ofwat. The timing is not confirmed due to a number of operational and legal procedural requirements but we will be updating our customers, partners, regulators and stakeholders at the earliest time to ensure a co-ordinated approach.

“In the meantime, we continue to urge our customers to only use what they need for their essential use.”