Staff battle flooding to safeguard water supply

02 December 2022
Three men in hi-vis jackets stand outdoors in a yard at Ballater Water Treatment Works

After the flood water receded at Ballater Water Treatment Works

L-R: Craig Christie (Water Operations Team Leader); Graeme Stephen (Senior Treatment Operator) and Kes Juskowiak (Water Operations General Manager)

“The response of teams across the affected sites was amazing. The actions they took in the early stages protected our customers and, had they not taken the action they did, we could have faced very significant longer-term problems.”

Kes Juskowiak
Water Operations General Manager

Scottish Water staff have spoken about their battle to safeguard the water supply to homes and businesses in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire following severe flooding a fortnight ago.

SEPA issued 16 ongoing flood warnings and four flood alerts across the area, and the Met Office issued an amber weather warning. Hardest hit was the Aboyne area, Aberdeenshire. Between Wednesday and Saturday, it received 127.6mm of rain - almost 150% of the November average of 86.49mm.

Graeme Stephen, Senior Treatment Operator at Ballater Water Treatment Works, said the floods on 19 November were ‘the worst he’s seen’, as the River Gairn breached the site and forced its shutdown.

A tankering operation swung into action, moving 32 loads of water each day from the Friday until Tuesday, to ensure customers in Ballater and the surrounding area, retained access to fresh drinking water.

Having spent 22 years at the Ballater site, Graeme knew early on there was likely to be an issue.

“I could tell from the colour of the raw water when sampling in the morning that there was a quality issue – it was well above our parameters – which wasn’t a surprise given the amount of rain we’d been having. 

“The river runs high several times a year, but this time it wasn’t long before we were flooded. It was worse than Storm Frank; it was the worst I’ve seen it. I had to shut down the site as the well had flooded and the pumps were under water. We tried to save them, but it was beyond our control.”

Power had to be shut down across the station for safety issues, while the on-site team battled 24/7 to pump out the water. More than a dozen pumps were knocked out of action as they became submerged under the floodwater, including those for servicing, sampling and treatment. Each has had to be kiln-dried and reinstated, work which is still ongoing.

Elsewhere, at Inchgarth Reservoir in Aberdeen the water overtopped for the second time in seven years as the River Dee, which flows next to the site, rose 5.5 metres in just 12.5 hours. When it was built, it was said to have a one in 200-year chance of overtopping. Flood mitigations installed after Storm Frank prevented its pumping station from being flooded from the outside, but internal flooding in the basement saw the team rush to respond to the emergency.

Aimee Kent, Water Treatment Operator, was on standby and called out to support the efforts on-site.

“After Storm Frank the compressors and motors were moved to protect them from future flooding, and that has proved successful during these latest floods. But flooding internally from the chamber that feeds the river water into the reservoir meant that we had to selectively turn off a number of pumps to protect others.

“We know that we’ll continue to face this as we get hotter summers and wetter winters. I can definitely see us being flooded again. But we will pull together like we did this time and work hard to get the site up and running as soon as possible.”

Craig Christie, Water Operations Team Leader said there were serious implications for a reservoir overtopping, coupled with the flooding of a pumping station.

“Aside from the obvious risk of flooding, there could be damage to the infrastructure, which causes a real problem in the supply of water. 

“Ultimately if all the pumps went down, Inchgarth stops operating and so does Mannofield Water Treatment Works. That prevents the supply of water to 250,000 people across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

“Given the increased frequency and the potential impacts, we’re installing a secondary and emergency sump pump to give us more resilience.

Kes Juskowiak, Water Operations General Manager, praised the early intervention of Scottish Water staff in responding to the severe weather.

The response of teams across the affected sites was amazing. The actions they took in the early stages protected our customers and, had they not taken the action they did, we could have faced very significant longer-term problems.”

Inchgarth reservoir overtopped for the second time in seven years

Watch the video to see footage from during and after