How tankers help to safeguard homes from flooding

Tankers driving down narrow country roads at all hours, pumps running all night in previously quiet villages.

Residents across the region could be forgiven for complaining and asking just what we’re up to.

Those that already know tend to be kinder – the tankers and pumps are unsung heroes carrying out vital work to protect homes from flooding and keep wastewater services running in the face of billions of litres of rainfall.

Since the start of the year more than 1 billion litres of rain has fallen on Hampshire alone and more double that since the beginning of November. The volume is similar for Kent and if Sussex is slightly behind it is because the county is smaller.

The south and south east of England have been lucky to avoid the apocalyptic scenes witnessed in towns along the River Severn and in the north.

Helping to deal with groundwater and other issues

But we have our own problem which is groundwater flooding. The earth only has so much capacity to soak up rain and in places across the region the water table is noW at ground level.

This causes problems for all the flood responders – the Environment Agency which takes the lead on flooding, county councils and Southern Water.

Our role is to keep the sewers running and we support partners such as the Agency when asked.

High groundwater leads to water being forced into the sewer network overloading it. Silt and debris can also build up making the sewers less effective. Our sewers were never designed to cope with this and nor should they be.

To manage this, tankers provided by our delivery partner MTS pump stormwater from the network and transport it direct to treatment sites. In really difficult areas – with the approval of the Environment Agency – highly dilute and partially treated wastewater is pumped directly into swollen water courses.

“It’s been one busy winter. We’re sorry about the noise and disruption the tankers cause but I am very proud of my staff,” says Steve Gilson, managing director of MTS, “We have 200 staff in the field right now managed by 40 in the office. We’ve had to bring in a further 60-80 teams from our network to help during the busiest phases.”

The teams do not just drive the tankers but must get out and supervise the pumping – whatever the weather.

And shifts are long. “A team can spend up to six days away from home living out of trucks with the correct facilities. With breaks and rest periods a team can operate for 24 hours at a time. The office team play a key role here in ensuring safety and driver welfare,” says Gilson.

Gilson’s teams are generally a cheerful lot – and they need a sense of humour to cope. “Sadly, people who don’t understand their homes are being saved can become irate about noise and traffic. Over the years some have been assaulted and probably every single one has been abused. It’s very sad but we try not to blame the angry local – they clearly don’t understand,” he says.

Plenty of people do understand though. “Over Christmas, two teams ended up stuck in small Kent village preventing a group of houses being flooded. They were brought Christmas dinner by householders. And in North Hampshire where a number of villages are at risk everyone from the Parish Council to people in the street have been supporting them,” he adds.