Meet the water guardians

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Meet the water guardians - Chris Houselander

(Chris Houselander conducting a water quality test)

Thames Water has some of the best tap water quality in the world, and supplies a staggering 2.6 billion litres of clean drinking water to nine million people every day. But, how does the company ensure the water meets the most stringent of tests?

Here, we find out more about the essential day-to-day work they carry out...

As you boil the kettle for a cup of tea, or turn the shower on first thing in the morning, the last thing you think about is how Thames Water ensures the quality of its water.

A dedicated team of water quality technicians (WQTs) patrol the streets, pumping stations and reservoirs in the constant drive to ensure the highest water quality possible in the company’s region.

This is no easy feat.

Every year, 58 WQTs carry out more than 500,000 water quality tests – around 1,300 per day.

They work round-the-clock and can be called out to a job at a moment’s notice, whether that’s taking a sample from a customer’s property, a sample from a pumping station, or a standard test at a reservoir or other water source.

Chris Houselander, who has worked for Thames Water for 29 years, admitted the enjoyable job can often be quite challenging.

He said: “By law, we cannot announce when we visit a customer. We have to cold-call them, by simply knocking on their door and trying to convince them we are genuine, explain what we are doing and why we are doing it, and then hopefully they let us in.

“It can be quite difficult – sometimes having to knock on up to 30 doors in a single street to get let in and carry out our jobs.”

As well as being the face of the company out on the road – the individual teams can travel hundreds of miles every week carrying out tests – the WQTs have to be extremely knowledgeable about the business as they are bombarded with questions from customers.

So why are the water quality tests carried out?

Meet the water guardians - John Sunderland

John Sunderland, who has worked for the company since 1987 and is pictured above, said: “We carry them out for a number of reasons, for example because a customer has complained, because there have been reports of a customer suffering an illness such as gastroenteritis, or because people are reporting discoloured water.

“Those are our reactive tests, when we’re given a road name or a postcode and we have to take a sample. However, we also do proactive tests where we take samples from reservoirs, or from rivers, that supply drinking water to ensure it’s of the quality needed.

“We do a lot of travelling and our area’s only getting bigger due to the expanding population.”

After taking the samples, the water is then sent to a specialist laboratory in Reading for testing. The water must meet strict levels of compliance set by Ofwat and the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) and if the quality of the water is fine, no further action is taken.

If it fails the tests, immediate action is taken.                                 

Another key aspect of constantly testing the water is ensuring the security of it is strict.

London’s water supply in particular could be a target for a potential attack, and the engineers check the quality of the water at some of the biggest reservoirs and pumping stations to ensure that it has not been tampered with.

Chris added: “The security of the water is very important. We can visit some stations or reservoirs every day, whether that be because they have a history of bad water quality, there’s been an incident that would affect the water quality, or simply because of the number of people it serves and for statutory compliance.

“The job is quite pressured because we aim for 100 per cent compliance, and we have to achieve that – and we are very proud that we do.”