The Out Skerries - the only part of Scotland that is praying for rain

Share this article

IT HAS been raining for days on end on the mainland in one of the wettest summers on record.

But the 80 inhabitants of the remote Shetland islands of the Out Skerries have had a completely different problem to deal with this month - their community’s worst drought in a decade.

At a cost of 800,000, or 10,000 per islander, 650 tonnes of water were delivered to the island by tanker at the weekend.

The rocky islands, which have no natural water supplies, have had no significant rainfall for weeks. And, ironically, it has been the presence of water board workers, sent to the Out Skerries to build the islands’ first dedicated water supply, which has helped to cause the crisis.

The Out Skerries’ main reservoir, which contained rainwater drawn from a sophisticated system of concrete channels over the winter, run dry six weeks ago. Only a couple of feet of water was left in the main tank.

Islanders on the bridge-linked islands of Bruray and Housay had been taking showers instead of baths, watering their plants with waste water and had been banned from using garden hoses.

David Johnson, a retired crofter who runs the island’s only bed and breakfast, said : "There has been very little rain on Shetland since 1 June and everybody has been praying for water." But he revealed: "We have had workmen here building an extension to the primary school and people working on the new water scheme and they have been using a lot of water with the building and concrete work.

"Everybody expected we would run out of water if there was a dry summer and that’s exactly what has happened."

The emergency supplies were shipped to the islands on board a vessel, chartered by Scottish Water.

Robert McAllister, a spokesman for Scottish Water, explained: "The Skerries has one of the most challenging water supply systems in the UK.

"The islands comprise mainly rock and therefore there are no lochs, streams or wells for water to collect, so the islanders rely entirely on rainfall, which collects in a channel that feeds a small concrete reservoir and steel storage tank.

"This is used for the water supply during the summer. Without a regular top-up from rainfall, the system runs out and has to be supplemented from time to time."

Mr McAllister said he hoped that the emergency supplies, sent to the islands, would last until the Autumn by which time the reservoir would be replenished.

"Hopefully this will be the last time we have to take supplies to the Skerries," he said. "The job is costing around 800,000 - 10,000 for every islander. But that's just the reality of providing modern water services to remote areas.

"The water quality laws apply equally to Skerries as they do to inner cities. The islanders of Skerries are as entitled as any city dweller to a reliable, safe tap water supply that meets the quality laws."