20th September 2018
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Strong feeling for Bressay water triggers revolt against piping it in from Lerwick

, by , in Public Affairs

By JOHN ROBERTSON

Bressay folk are preparing to fight to keep their “superior” tap water after learning of a proposal by Scottish Water to pipe Lerwick’s supply across the sound instead.

The water company revealed last week it was considering a subsea pipeline which would allow it to close the island’s Brough Loch treatment works and provide around 330 customers with the same Sandy Loch water now drunk by most people in Shetland. But the idea is already getting backs up in Bressay where it appears many folk are rather partial to their native supply.

Scottish Water is going over next month to explain its thinking to Bressay Community Council and gauge reaction. Retired businessman Hebbie Tulloch declared this week he was strongly against the idea because Bressay water is “splendid” whereas he could actually sometimes smell the chemicals in Lerwick water. “I don’t normally resent change but we have a perfectly good water scheme here on the island and it would be a pity to not use the local water.

It, in my opinion, is better than what you get in the town.”

Some commuting islanders take bottles of Bressay water over to town to avoid having to drink what comes out the taps at their work. It has also been known for patients from Bressay in hospital in Lerwick to have water sent over to them by family members. Mr Tulloch said he was one of those who bottled the Bressay stuff to take with him in his car.

He intends going to the community council meeting on Wednesday 18th February to register his views with Scottish Water. He said: “It’s just a case of centralising everything. They are piping the water from the Sandy Loch right down to Sumburgh now.” The only circumstances in which he would back a switch was if so many new houses were to be built in Bressay that Brough Loch could no longer cope.

In a letter to this newspaper Katrina Christie from Bressay said she felt town water would be poorer quality than the Bressay variety and if change was required it should just be to upgrade the existing treatment works.

Louise Scollay brings a fresh bottle of Bressay water to her work at The Shetland Times every day and, like members of her family, is strongly opposed to a switch. She is convinced that theirs tastes better and challenges doubters to compare it for themselves. “My grandfather used to say: ‘There’s nothing like a glass of Brough Loch’.” She also intends going to the community council meeting to oppose the pipeline.

Scottish Water spokesman Jason Rose was surprised opposition was already mobilising. He said the pipeline was “only an option” and speculated it could prove expensive and might be dropped in favour of other possibilities including tinkering with the existing water plant or perhaps building a new one. “It is still early stages internally within Scottish Water. There still isn’t the appropriate approval to take this forward and obviously we have still got to get the view of the community.”

Asked what consideration would be given to local views, he said: “If at the community council meeting it turns out that folk are dead against the idea of getting water from somewhere else then, yes, we would have to take that on board, although I’m not sure why it should make a difference where your water comes from as long as it’s good quality.”

He said the need for improvements in Bressay was not so much to do with the quality of the existing water but the need for technical improvements at the water works to improve the reliability.

“If you have got a really good [supply] like Sandy Loch then if you can extend its reach then that makes more sense and you have got one less treatment works to look after.”

He said subsea pipelines had been put in elsewhere in Scotland because it provided a long-term solution. One ex­ample is a crossing of the Kyle of Tongue to supply the village of Melness, on the north coast of Sutherland, which was cheaper than building a new local treatment works.

The subsea pipeline idea emerged last week when Scottish Water gave an update on its 2010 Vision for Shetland programme which involves improvements to water and sewerage systems at a cost of £18 million over four years. The stated aim is to give customers more reliable supplies of “clearer, fresher drinking water and a cleaner environment”.

The company is already having work done in Bressay at the moment by contractor FLJ to lay a new water main to serve the north end of the island, which has been suffering bursts. The job needs to be done regardless of whether the supply comes from Lerwick or Bressay.

One Bressay man who phoned to complain but preferred to withhold his name said he had not heard of anyone in the island in favour of importing Lerwick water. He claimed the Brough Loch supply had been shown in tests to be among the best in Shetland and, unlike town water, did not corrode pipes and tanks.

He suspected Scottish Water’s motive was to cut costs and do away with the one part-time job that the treatment works provides. “There is very little employment in the isle and this wouldn’t help,” he said.

Questions are being asked about what would happen in the event of a pipe across the harbour being broken, perhaps by a ship’s anchor, leaving Bressay with no supply.

Bressay Community Council chairman Theo Smith said he had no official information about the pipeline proposal yet and, having been away a week, had not been able to gauge local reaction.

He said Scottish Water would be invited to roll out any proposals that it had at the meeting and the floor would be opened to the public to hear their views. “We need to see what their proposals are and then make comment on them.” He added: “My personal view is I would not like to see the Bressay treatment works close. If there is an opportunity to feed Bressay water to Lerwick we would be delighted to do that.”

Shetland has water works at Sandy Loch and Eela Water in the Mainland and all Shetland’s inhabited islands not connected by bridges, whereas the million people living in Glasgow are served by just one.