When the taps run dry

I was up later than usual last night and was looking forward to getting to bed. I tottered into the bathroom to clean my teeth and turned on the tap. Nothing came out. I tried the bath tap and the tap in the kitchen with equal lack of success.

I knew there were road works just along from us and went to take a look but the site was covered up and dark. No work in progress.

So we called Thames Water. A mild-mannered and apologetic man answered. He was sorry for the inconvenience, he said. He wasn’t aware of any trouble in our area but he would take a look. He looked and came back with the news that there was testing for leaks and other issues going on in the neighbourhood and that this could cause intermittent loss of supply.

He said that testing took place between 11 pm and 6 am and that we would definitely have water again by the morning. I asked why, if this was a routine matter, known in advance, we had not been warned. I received no satisfactory reply to that.

Barely was I off the phone when with a rasp, a cough and a gurgle, the taps started running, uncertainly at first, then with increasing confidence. The crisis, it seemed, was over.

I thought about this during the day, even considering the possibility of writing a philosophical post about how we become reliant on what seem the certainties of life and suffer anxiety and inconvenience when this overweening confidence is betrayed. I had fallen into the trap of thinking that because the water was flowing again, the problem had gone away.

At 10:05 this evening, I decided to make us a cup of tea. I turned on the tap and… nothing. There was no water; no water in the kitchen, no water in the wash basin and no water in the bath.

I rang Thames Water again. Last night I was put through to a human almost immediately but this evening I had to wait a quarter of an hour. When he responded, it was the same man as last night. He was apologetic – again – but said he was unaware of any trouble in our area. He thought it was possible that testing was still in progress. I drily pointed out that if it was testing, it was well before his stated starting time of 11 pm.

He put me on hold to have a word with his manager. This didn’t seem to help as he was still unable to be sure what the problem was. He assured me we would have water by the morning, a somewhat hollow promise if he could not say what the problem was.

He suggested that the interruption to the supply could possibly be the result of some emergency and that he would dispatch an engineer to investigate. That was where the matter rested: we were without water and Thames Water, nominally responsible for supplying us with water, cannot say why this is.

It could of course be a coincidence and that some real emergency has occurred the day after a planned inspection. That would be one hell of a coincidence, however, and if it is one, then I confidently expect to win a major prize in the Lotto this weekend.

Fortunately, we had enough water in the kettle and the filter jug to make a cup of tea. That is some  consolation but only a small one. For now we are unable to clean our teeth, flush the toilet or do any of the the things that require water and that we normally do without a second thought.

What annoys me, however, is the cavalier way that Thames Water behaves. When I suggested again this evening that at least in the case of planned work, we should be warned in advance of the interruption of the supply, my apologetic and mild-mannered adviser darkly hinted that Ofwat had given them the authority to cut off supplies as and when they deemed necessary. Presumably this means that, as the paying customer, I am being out of order for complaining that I am not receiving the service I am paying for and that they cannot tell me the reason why.

Copyright © 2010 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.


About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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6 Responses to When the taps run dry

  1. BFG says:

    We experience this fairly regularly, although to be fair to the apartment complex management, they do try to notify us in advance (even if that means placing a note on the floor in the hallway outside our front door sometime after midnight on the morning of the day the water is due to be disconnected at 8:00am. This is a new definition of “advance notice” we have had to come to grips with).

    As a general rule we keep some bottled water (gallon containers) to hand all the time, and if we get enough notice we fill one or more five gallon containers with water so we can refill the cistern in the loos if necessary.

    The power goes out sometimes too – usually with advance notice (see above) – far more often than you’d expect for a suburb of Los Angeles. It’s far more of a problem during the summer months, since even though we’re a couple of thousand feet above sea level that only lowers the ambient temperature by about ten degrees; that can mean above 35C/95F with hot winds, so being without air conditioning or even a fan to circulate the air can be very uncomfortable.

    Recently we were without water for several lengthy periods (one was more than 24 hours after a water main burst) so we’re reasonably practiced at coping with the problems 🙂

    I agree though – you can get lulled into a false sense of security when you’ve had decades of (almost) uninterrupted water and power.

    When things improve we’re going to have to find money to get a solar powered air conditioner, because I can see that this kind of problem is likely to get worse in the years ahead (although it might get better if some of the new power generation technologies get off the ground soon).

    • SilverTiger says:

      I can understand that emergencies sometimes arise – such as a burst water main – taking the company by surprise. That does not seem to be what is happening here. By the time I had finished writing my post, the water was back on. I therefore think it was more likely to be a further episode in the inspection of the local pipes. The fact that they see fit to carry out planned interruptions of the supply without making the least effort to warn householders (who could be covered with soap in the shower or running critical equipment that requires water) shows a cavalier attitude.

      The parable of the wise virgins counsels us to take precautions in case emergencies occur but in modern life it is simply not possibly to prepare for any and every emergency involving gas, electricity, water, blocked sewers, etc. etc. The utility companies have to justify their continually rising charges by making sure they can deal with these swiftly to minimize risk and inconvenience to the paying customer and the public.

      The fact that our supply has been interrupted twice suggests that this could keep happening as I was told the work will continue until October 23rd, though the workforce will will moving to different areas during that time.

      This is a classic case where we British simply grumble but do no more than at most ring the call centre when we should be making an almighty fuss to ensure that we are in future treated with proper respect.

      • BFG says:

        The infrastructure here has been falling apart for decades, so leaks happen almost weekly. Sometimes we get up in the morning, turn on the hot water, and out comes a lot of air and gunk before the water, which measn they shut off the supply during the night while they worked on something.

        Other times it happens during the day without warning, and then often we see large swathes of drying carpeting draped over balcony or walkway railings, indicating that there had been a flood from such a burst.

        It’s normally an unusual event – in previous apartment buildings owned by the same management company we never had this problem; just this one (which is supposed to be one of the “jewels in the crown”, being the largest as I recall).

        This is separate from the disruptions caused by the local utility company, DWP (District Water & Power), more frequent recently since they adopted a water saving policy that an investigation showed was actually causing more pipe bursts than usual.

        To their credit, DWP is the city-owned utility and so charge rates that are about half those charged by other utility companies in the same area, but even so – there’s no excuse for not fixing problems properly the first time round IMHO.

        • SilverTiger says:

          I suppose if it is a common occurrence (I remember staying in a hotel in Portugal once when the availability of water was very intermittent and the desk clerk simply shrugged when I asked about it), one becomes resigned to it and takes such precautions as one is able to (I kept the metal wastebasket full of water for flushing the loo if the water failed!). Happily, interruption of the water supply is not a common occurrence here and so causes bad feeling when it happens.

          The idea that companies should make proper repairs instead of patching up the breakages seems obvious to us but apparently is not always obvious to them.

  2. AEJ says:

    What to the call centre is a seemingly “mild inconvenience” is so much more so when, as you say, you’re covered in soap, or dying of thirst. I assume there is no competition of water suppliers there, so they can say whatever the hell they want and know you will remain a paying customer. I’m surprised they even have that one poor chap answering the phone.

    • SilverTiger says:

      The privatisation of water supply has been a long and bitter story. Even now, something like 25% of water is lost from the system because of leaky pipes, despite it being a condition of purchase that the new companies refurbish the network. They have been slow to do so, preferring instead to stuff the wallets of their shareholders.

      For gas and electricity, you can choose your own supplier (actually, just a billing company or reseller) but for water you are stuck with the company that operates in your area.

      Water quality and supply are usually good in the London area and if the water goes off for an hour two or three times a year for checking purposes, one could hardly complain, except that if you don’t know it is going to happen and then, when it does, don’t know that it is only a brief interruption, you are naturally concerned and then annoyed when you receive indifferent advice.

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