Water utility blamed for flooded outfield

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LEWES Priory say the blame for the cancellation of their huge Sussex Cricket League match with Keymer & Hassocks lies firmly at the door of Southern Water.

Priory official Rod Cole said the decision to call off the game, with Keymer & Hassocks, was unavoidable because of the flooded outfield.

That flooding only occurred, he said, because a nearby Southern Water pumping station had caused an underground spring to fill – waterlogging the pitch from below.

And the decision to cancel the game could cost the 1st XI the league title as the lost points leave them adrift of Div 3 (East) leaders Crowhurst Park.

I arrived at the Stanley Turner Ground on Saturday intending to take pictures of Lewes’ big game – but was instead faced with the scene (right). And Mr Cole told me: “About a year ago last April, just before the start of the season, we noticed parts of the ground were very spongy and it looked like the water was coming up rather than coming down. Tere had been no rain.

“I contacted Southern Water to investigate. They’ve had people to look at and there were no leaks, no pipes underground, nothing leaking – it’s to do with the spring.”

He added: “It also transpired that around the same time Southern Water upgraded their facility at Lewes to increase their pumping. I believe they have about six bore holes that extract water from under the Downs.

“At one stage they sent one of their senior leakage engineers to have a look at the ground.

“He said at the time that it was probably due to the fact that Southern Water had stopped pumping – and when they stop pumping the water backfills into the underground spring we have, which then causes the water to rise.

“As the summer progressed last year, we had fairly good weather and they continued pumping so the problem obviously went away.

“The start of this season, again because we had such a good March and water had been pumped away to fill the reservoirs, there wasn’t a problem with the ground. We had an issue once or twice with the ground being a little bit spongy.

“(But) I arrived at the ground at about midday today to be told the game had been called off. I was shown the puddles that were on the ground; there were three or four fairly close to the square, and the largest around 10ft wide in diameter.”

Mr Cole this week contacted the Sussex Express to say that – following phone calls made to Southern Water on the Saturday afternoon following the abandonment of the match – a promised letter dated July 31 had arrived – via email later that Saturday night.

The Sussex Express has seen a copy of this letter. Signed by a Miss S Collins, Senior Customer relations Advisor at Southern Water, the response says: “I have been requested to contact you to provide you with information following recent meetings with Southern Water to discuss the issues you are experiencing with standing water on your cricket pitch and playing surfaces.

“Having undertaken investigations, we have established that this flooding is not considered to be direct consequence of the abstraction activities at the adjacent Water Supply Works (WSW) site.

“It is considered that standing water on playing surfaces at this location is principally a consequence of geographical and geological location, local land drainage systems, and/or the recent intense rainfall.”

Mr Cole said: “Firstly, they state there have been recent meetings, there have been none.

“As you can see they blame the geology and geography of Lewes for the situation. The club understands the area is prone to flooding.

“We do dispute that rainfall has a direct impact on the flooding as we have seen surface water after periods with no rain for several weeks.

“There are a couple of things that still haven’t been addressed. One: why has this issue only arisen since Southern Water upgraded their pumping station 18 months ago? And, two, Southern Water are unwilling to provide information on the times that they have been pumping. Their call centre team manager stated that they would only give up that information ‘in a court of law’. (But) one of their leakage engineers informed the club last year that when Southern Water stop pumping, water then back fills into an underground spring, causing the flooding.

A SW spokesman said: “Our technical team are aware of the problems with standing water on parts of the club’s playing areas.

“Investigations carried out on site indicate that the flooding is not considered to be related to the adjacent Water Supply Works site.

“The matter is however in the hands of our technical and customer relations team who are continuing to liaise directly with the club on this matter.”