Local divers are praised by Scottish Water for saving the day.
Full marks must go to the dive team employed by Scottish Water to try and keep the supply flowing to local island homes.
As parts of the north of Scotland experienced their coldest minimum temperatures in 25 years, Scottish Water’s water operations team faced a battle to keep water flowing for communities in the Western Isles.
With intakes from lochs starting to freeze up after sub-zero temperatures, Scottish Water called upon the help of professional divers.
Divers from Lochs Diving Services played a key role in avoiding significant disruption to customer supplies at Ness and Stornoway by clearing ice. The biggest challenge of all was faced by Benbecula-based diving operator NDUS at Lochmaddy, where two dive teams maintained a constant watch for over 48 hours. Only then was there confidence that a stable supply of water from Loch Fada had been restored.
Mark MacInnes of NDUS was one of the original team of four divers who were on site.
Mark said: “We had been called out to the Water Treatment Works after returning from another job, but we checked everything at that time and the pumping station was operating okay. We then got a call at 2am for an icing problem.
“The water temperature in Loch Fada overnight was down between -3 and -4 degrees Celsius.
“We only had about four inches of visibility in the loch during the daytime, and even less at night, so we had to find and clear the intakes using our hands - but you lose a lot of feeling and dexterity at that kind of temperature which makes it harder.
“There are filter screens with fine holes to stop debris being drawn into the pumps. As soon as slush from the loch was coming into contact with the screen, the holes were icing over.
“As we worked through the night, one side of the screens was freezing over as fast as you could clear the other. We set up a net which helped slow down the formation of ice and meant we could get up to the water treatment works and warm up between dives. We just had to keep watching the flow to know when we had to clear the screens again.
“The biggest challenge was the cold and the long hours. However, my team of four are all new dads, so we’ve all had some training for being up at all hours through the night and getting by with little sleep. My family live in the communities served by Lochmaddy, so we knew how important it was to get everyone’s water supply back to normal.”
Scottish Water’s Team Leader Peter MacNab said: “The situation we faced two weeks ago was a real test for our dedicated local team. The duration and the extent of the challenges we faced called for a marathon effort. The commitment of our people to the essential role we play, and to finding solutions under pressure, was critical to success.
“When we most needed it, we couldn’t have asked for stronger support from local businesses and partner organisations. I particularly want to recognise the extraordinary effort of the divers from NDUS and Lochs Diving Services to get the water flowing again for our customers. The photos of the conditions they worked through speak for themselves.”