LOCAL politicians are urging NI Water to review policy after householders and businesses across the borough were left without water for long periods last weekend during the hottest temperatures that Northern Ireland has ever seen.
NI Water staff worked round the clock after a burst trunk main at Dunore Point water treatment station resulted in a loss of supply, exacerbated by high demand as temperatures reached over 31 degrees last week.
Antrim, Kells, Crumlin, Randalstown, Ballyclare, Templepatrick and Toomebridge were all hit by the outage, with scores of businesses having to close on Friday, including hairdressers, pubs and restaurants, all still trying to recover in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Some customers were left without water for more than 12 hours, including the elderly, people with young children and pets, and farmers struggling to hydrate livestock.
Supermarkets around the borough sold out of bottled water within hours as forecasts of when supply would be restored were pushed back from 9pm to midnight on Friday into Saturday morning.
There were still sporadic issues on Sunday and Monday and NI Water has thanked both staff for their hard work and customers for their patience.
Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council offered residents use of Antrim Forum, Allen Park and the Gateway Visitor Centre to collect water.
Antrim Area Hospital and Holywell Hospital were also affected, with water tankers being deployed at both sites.
A spokeswoman for the Northern Health and Social Care Trust said: “The Trust was notified this morning of an issue with the NI Water supply network which has affected Trust health and social care facilities across mid Antrim and particularly Antrim Area and Holywell Hospitals, where water use is greatest.
“Contingency measures have been put in place and we are working closely with NI Water to keep reserve tanks topped up and provide bottled water to both staff and patients.”
On Friday night, DUP South Antrim MLA Trevor Clarke said: “I requested that emergency bottled water is provided to residents affected, especially elderly people but it is NI Water’s policy to provide this only after water supply has been off for longer than 24 hours.
“This is simply not acceptable in extreme heat.
“I will make urgent representation to both the Chief Executive and the Minister for Infrastructure to have this policy reviewed.”
Mr Clarke has urged local people to sign up friends and relatives in need of extra assistance to NI Water’s Customer Care Register.
“Following a conversation with the Chief Executive of NI Water, I can confirm that all those on the Customer Care Register have continued to be supplied with water, including those in care homes.” he said.
“This list includes those with illness, disabilities and the elderly.
“NI Water organised bottled water deliveries to all those on the Customer Care Register including nursing and care homes for the elderly.
“It was a very difficult situation for all those without drinking water especially in such hot weather.
“I want to place on record my thanks to the NI Water staff that were able to repair the fault as soon as possible.
“NI water staff worked tirelessly in the extremely hot weather to repair the damage as quickly as possible.
“I would also like to encourage all those with vulnerable or elderly friends and relatives to contact NI Water to have them added to the Customer Care Register in the event of any water disruption in the future.”
Earlier last week, NI Water had warned people to cut back on their water usage, particularly by avoiding the use of hoses and sprinklers, as demand was ‘unsustainably high’
Antrim town UUP rep Jim Montgomery said that the situation on Friday ‘could not have been predicted’.
“Contrary to some of the conspiracy theories circulating, it was not a deliberate act but rather a sheer accident.” he said.
“It naturally caused not only inconvenience for many but disruption for some who were reliant on water.
“Thankfully Antrim Area Hospital was able to get emergency access along with many vulnerable people.
“Some people who needed water unfortunately lost out but as a reaction to the events unfolding the water supplied where needed largely covered most of the urgent cases.
“It was noticeable and commendable how members of the community stepped up and provided water to others who needed it in some cases.
“Recognition has to be given to the NI Water staff who worked hard on resolving the issue with service starting to return early Friday evening.
“Their hard work could easily be taken for granted but we should recognise their commitment to restoring services.”
Alliance councillor Neil Kelly said that lessons needed to be learned from the crisis.
“It was very difficult to buy any bottled water in Antrim on Friday and most places seemed to have sold out.” he said.
“I was contacted by people who were not just concerned about themselves but also their pets and also by some people who had no water for cattle and horses.
“Nursing and residential homes were also under pressure as were many older and vulnerable people.
“There was quite a lot of activity on social media and people were volunteering to bring water to others who could not get it themselves.
“It was difficult for a number of people and I really do hope that lessons are learned about making water available to people especially when due to the very hot weather people are vulnerable to dehydration.
“I have contacted the Department For Infrastructure asking that they review their policy and under exceptional circumstances such as a heat wave water could be supplied when needed and not wait 24 hours.”
NI Water has explained why the taps stayed dry for so long..
“Teams were mobilized promptly to initiate a complicated and difficult repair of a 1250mm diameter pipe which was carried out by early evening on July 23,” said a spokesperson.
“The process of bringing customers back online following the repair was complex, required time and care to be taken in order to avoid any further bursts or air locks in the system.
“It was for this reason that it took longer than usual for all customers to be back on a normal supply.
“NI Water made sure that critical care customers and the local hospitals received alternative water and worked with DAERA to provide water for livestock.
“A massive thank you to our customers for their patience and understanding in this situation as we appreciate it was a very warm day and not an ideal time to lose your water supply. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.
“Thank you also to our staff who have worked tirelessly over the last few weeks and throughout the entire pandemic delivering essential services to our customers.”