‘The worst thing is not being able to flush the toilet’: What happens when a village runs dry?

·4-min read
Carolyn Evans stands among the mass of water bottles piled on the village green - Eddie Mulholland
Carolyn Evans stands among the mass of water bottles piled on the village green - Eddie Mulholland

Hundreds of bottles of water are piled up on the village green in Northend, near Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire.

Over the past few days, levels at their nearest reservoir have dropped so low that taps are running dry, and toilets won’t flush.

While there has been intermittent water supply to the village from tankers which park up in the green, this mound of bottled water has been used for everything from filling troughs to flushing toilets.

John Sturt, a 42-year-old resident of the village, is struggling to do basic household tasks and look after his two children and pets.

“There is a total lack of water – we can’t wash up”, said Mr Sturt. “The ponies [usually] have a trough that fills from the mains, but we’ve had to fill it up with bottled water.”

Mr Sturt describes the village as a “canary”. When there is no water or low pressure in Northend – which is on top of a hill – there may be further problems coming for villages in the valley beneath.

In ordinary times, Mr Sturt’s house has a serene view out over the village duck pond. But now the duck house sits forlornly on cracked and parched ground. Further on, the village green is brown and bristly and cracks underfoot.

The duck house in Northend, which usually sits on the village pond, now sits forlornly on cracked and parched ground - Eddie Mulholland /Eddie Mulholland
The duck house in Northend, which usually sits on the village pond, now sits forlornly on cracked and parched ground - Eddie Mulholland /Eddie Mulholland

Nearly 70 houses in the village have had their water run dry, with all located on one side of the road. Residents on the other side are supplied by a different mains pipe, and are unaffected.

Carolyn Evans, another resident, says that neighbours on the other side of the road have opened their doors to allow people in to shower.

“One of the worst things is not being able to flush the toilet”, said Mrs Evans. When she needs to flush it, she has to fill the tank with three two-litre bottles of water.

She is concerned about turning on her washing machine in case not enough water is supplied to it and it breaks, and says she is currently heating small amounts of bottled water in her kettle to wash herself.

Mrs Evans has been campaigning about supply to the village since 2018, when their water also cut out. It also ran dry during the heatwave in July, when temperatures went above 40C in the UK for the first time.

'I think I could run Thamas Water better than this'

She has written to Steve Baker, their local MP, and is trying to convene a meeting with Thames Water and residents in the next few weeks.

“I think I could run [Thames Water] better than this”, she said.

The community has pulled together to get water to those in need, with the nearby Bull and Butchers pub in Turville allowing locals to come in and fill up containers from their supply.

Laura Kent, who works at the pub, said that they would offer what water they had, but would have to close if theirs ran out too. "If our water ran out the impact for us would be closure because we can't operate a pub without water”, she said.

There has been intermittent water supply to the village from tankers which park up in the green - Eddie Mulholland
There has been intermittent water supply to the village from tankers which park up in the green - Eddie Mulholland

A spokesman for Thames Water said: “We’re sorry to customers in the Stokenchurch area who are experiencing lower pressure than normal due to technical issues with our Stokenchurch reservoir. We have a team on site working hard to resolve this as soon as possible and the situation is improving and supplies have been restored to customers.

“We’re using tankers to help boost supplies to customers in Northend to keep up water pressures for these customers so they do not see supply issues as well as delivering water bottles.

“Customers may experience lower than normal pressure during periods of higher demand. These times are typically in the morning and during the early evening.

“We’ve also identified everyone in the affected area who has pre-registered with us as having special requirements, such as being medically reliant on water, so we can get in touch and make sure we give them the help and support they need.

“We realise how inconvenient this is, especially during such hot weather, and appreciate customers’ patience as we work to resolve things.”