Taking care of the water that sustains a small island community

28 May 2020

Water view

Skerries, a group of small islands east of mainland Shetland, has a permanent population of around 20.

Keeping Scotland’s water flowing during the public health emergency has brought a huge range of new challenges to Scottish Water’s frontline teams all over the country.
The changes have been smaller, but no less important, for the team of two who look after the water supply in Skerries, a group of small islands east of mainland Shetland with a permanent population of around 20. 
We caught up with Chris Harris, the islands’ relief water operator to find out more. 
Chris says: “In a small community, it can be quite hard. When you’re responsible for making sure the water always meets the right standard, you can’t have a break or relax as you may have to go to work at any time. My role ensures there is some flexibility and that the main operator of the island’s Water Treatment Works can have some time off.
“For us, coronavirus has brought smaller changes than in some other places. During lockdown, with a reduced ferry service, my colleague who is the main Scottish Water operator here hasn’t been leaving the island to support work in other places. 99% of the time, only one of us would ever be at the Treatment Works at one time, so social distancing is a normal feature of our working lives.

"We do communicate when we are handing over, so that is only being done by email and telephone where sometimes it would have been in person.

“We’ve been able to keep the regular sampling of the island’s water supply going, with samples going out on the ferry every Wednesday and new sample bottles coming back in the evening. We’re continuing to get everything that we need and we have good processes in place to take action quickly if we need to.”
Chris says the wider life of the island community has seen some more noticeable changes:

“Normally, we would all go down to meet the ferry to help with loading and unloading, but that is now limited to keep numbers of people as low as possible. It is quite strange seeing no visitors coming off the ferry at this time of year and no people wandering around with binoculars during the day looking to catch a glimpse of the latest rare bird!  
“We’re fortunate in the public services we have, but of course we’re further away than most from emergency healthcare so it’s important as a community that we do all we can to keep everyone safe.
“Scottish Water and the work we do has a key part to play in that. As an island community, we would be able to manage if food supplies were cut off for a time, but you can’t manage for long without a supply of clean drinking water. Fortunately, the Water Treatment Works runs very efficiently and we try to keep it that way.

"The whole community knows that water is a precious and finite resource, so everyone plays their part to take care of it.”