Devon: South West Water refuses to say when boil water notice will be lifted after disease outbreak

A South West Water boss has refused to give a timeline on when a notice to boil tap water will be lifted after a parasite was found in a key reservoir.

Speaking to Sky News, Laura Flowerdue, the company's chief customer officer, confirmed the suggestion it was likely a broken air valve contaminated by animal faeces that had caused the incident which left dozens ill and thousands unable to drink tap water.

However, she refused to give a timeframe on how long the incident would run on for - leaving thousands of residents facing an uncertain future.

She said: "We're still working through the operational processes to ensure we can absolutely link the root causes.

"We then need to take steps to repair any damage and then make sure we flush any issues through the network... before we lift the notice."

When pressed on how long it would take, she said: "We are working hard to be able to give more decisive information about that timeline.

"At this stage we absolutely want to ensure we're giving the right information to customers."

It comes after residents in parts of south Devon were told to boil their drinking water on Wednesday after the water firm found "small traces" of the parasite cryptosporidium - which causes cryptosporidiosis - in the Hillhead reservoir.

At first, it said the water was safe to drink, but then backtracked and had to issue a boil notice to 16,000 households and businesses in Brixham, Boohay, Kingswear, Roseland and North West Paignton.

The UK Health Security Agency said 22 people are confirmed to have contracted the disease, with as many as 70 other cases under investigation.

Ms Flowerdue said: "We have identified that there is a damaged air valve on the network near the Hillhead Reservoir - but we absolutely want to make sure that's the only source [of the contamination].

"We understand this a valve on one of the pipes heading towards the reservoir in a farmer's field, there are cattle in the field and it's a possibility that's the source of the contamination."

South West Water previously apologised for the disease outbreak in Devon after the parasite was found in the key reservoir.

The water company belatedly increased the compensation offered to affected customers from £15 to £100 to "say sorry for the stress and worry the situation has caused".

Read more:
What we know about parasite found in Devon drinking water
Warning to boil drinking water in Devon area

Water firm apologises after parasite detected in reservoir

Amid the chaos, one primary school closed its doors due to not having safe running drinking water.

The local council confirmed Eden Park Primary School shut its doors Thursday - but said it was thought to be the only school to have done so.

Reporting from Brixham, Sky News also found one woman had to rush her son, 13, to the hospital.

Meanwhile, GPs in the area have seen an increased number of calls.

Elsewhere, at collection points for bottled water run by South West Water, families are only allowed a maximum of six litres - but demand is high, with the queue for one site stretching over half a mile.

Totnes MP Anthony Mangnall has been outspoken about the incident affecting his constituents.

He pushed the water company for greater "clarification" and communication over what was going on and warned the boil water notice could last "at least a further six or seven days".

Speaking to Sky News, one local said: "What do I make of this? I can't really say it on the news can I?"