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Major water leak at Much Hadham pumping station affects thousands of homes in East Herts and West Essex

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The water supply to thousands of homes in East Herts and West Essex was disrupted following a major incident at a pumping station on Wednesday (Jan 27).

The Much Hadham facility operated by Affinity Water was flooded when a pipe 1m in diameter burst in the early hours of Wednesday, damaging the electrics on two large pumps, almost completely draining the reservoir it feeds and resulting in a loss of water pressure for customers across a wide area.

Emergency repairs began immediately as Affinity asked residents to conserve water, delivered bottled supplies to vulnerable customers and had tankers on standby to keep hospitals in the area topped up.

Engineers work to repair the water-damaged pumping station at Much Hadham (44163149)
Engineers work to repair the water-damaged pumping station at Much Hadham (44163149)

Residents in Bishop's Stortford, Sawbridgeworth, the Hadhams, Stansted, Birchanger and outlying villages in Uttlesford and East Herts noticed a drop in water pressure.

On Thursday (Jan 28), Affinity Water said that normal supplies had been restored and the cause of the burst main was under investigation.

"Following the incident at our pumping station in Much Hadham yesterday, we’re pleased to inform customers that we have now built up enough capacity in our network to ensure all customers have a water supply at normal pressure," said Kevin Barton, the company's head of external communications.

"Our key workers of engineers and network teams worked around the clock to keep the network topped up with water whilst these complicated repairs were carried out and keep the area in supply.

"We would like to thank customers who helped by conserving water. This made a real difference and ensured the vast majority of people in the affected area continued to receive water for essential use throughout the incident."

Mr Barton described the burst pipe as "a very big incident". Water poured into the pumping station, damaging the electrics on two large pumps. While the damaged pipe was repaired relatively quickly, power heaters running at full capacity were needed to dry out the site and a replacement control panel had to be fitted.

"This pumping station feeds a nearby storage reservoir and feeds the whole area with water. Due to the efforts of engineers throughout the day and night to readjust our network to keep supply coming, the vast majority of customers still had water," he said.

For two hours on Wednesday night "a small minority"of households were affected by low pressure during peak usage times while the new electrics were installed. And while the storage reservoir ran low, a more serious outcome was avoided.

"The reservoir was running low throughout the day. If that had run empty it would have meant no water for the vast majority of our customers, but because of our network team and the combined efforts of customers to save water, we got these levels topped up."

Mr Barton said this kind of emergency demonstrated why its team were classed as key workers.

"People don't realise this, but our staff provide an essential public service, and when you get incidents like this they work around the clock and are so passionate about what they do to keep the water going."

He added: "The cause will be investigated, but when you operate such a large network – we have 16,500km (10,252 miles) of pipework alone with water of significant pressure within a pipe to serve 3.6 million customers – with any water main there are so many different factors that could cause it to burst."

During an emergency of this scale, Affinity Water liaises with local resilience forums, updating them with progress.

It urged vulnerable customers – the elderly or those who rely on water for medical conditions – to sign up free to the company's Priority Services Register (PSR). "It means that when there are incidents like this, we can provide and deliver bottled water in the first instance," said Mr Barton.

To register visit www.affinitywater.co.uk/priorityservices.

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