It is a scenario that is probably pretty close to the top of Scottish Water’s worry list, if they have such a thing.
First, far-flung communities in the islands lose their tap water – logistically tricky.
Second, the very islands left without water experienced storms that delayed ferries and just generally made things more difficult.
Scottish Water’s customer service manager Kevin Roy, who was put at the head of the response operation, vividly remembers the scramble to get help to the homes affected.
“When we have an adverse situation like this,” Mr Roy says, “it’s ingrained in our culture to try to retain the confidence of communities.”
But the timing couldn’t have been worse for Scottish Water crews trying to get to Uist.
‘Working around the clock’
Strong wind and rain battered the island, making travel “challenging”.
“Ferry sailings were limited,” Mr Roy says.
It wasn’t just a matter of getting to the island, either.
Samples of the affected water then had to be “transported by planes, trains, and automobiles all the way back to Edinburgh”, Mr Roy says.
“The sampling teams were working round the clock, right through the night, to analyse those samples.”
‘Huge multi-agency support’
Meanwhile, teams on the ground in Uist were carrying out a huge water distribution operation.
“We delivered water daily to a thousand properties,” Mr Roy says – almost 30,000 bottles in total.
“The support and recovery element was resource intensive and time intensive.”
It was the “huge multi-agency support”, Mr Roy says, that made it possible at all.
Those agencies included “resilience partners”, CalMac, and the fire service, among others.
In addition, dozens of volunteers made the journey to Uist to help bolster the efforts.
And, Mr Roy stresses, it wasn’t just outside help that kept the water supply going.
“We had local people who worked tirelessly to quarantine the contamination and get the works back,” he says.
“They were a great community to work in.”
By Saturday afternoon, the issue had been fixed, and tap water was back on the table. The positive outcome, Mr Roy says, “wouldn’t have been possible without the kind of community spirit that we witnessed”.
Scottish Water investigations continue
Even now, says Mr Roy, “the recovery behind the scenes is still ongoing”.
As the “investigation” continues, Scottish Water are considering what changes they will make going forward.
“We will probably discontinue that [chamber],” he says.
Scottish Water are currently working with a “temporary set up” as they look for a “more permanent” solution.
After the events of last month, they plan “never to resort back” to the diesel fuel set up which caused the issue.
Hopefully, a similar issue will never happen again in Uist. Mr Roy said he wanted to “apologise” to the community, but also to “thank them for their patience, their resilience, and their cooperation.”
More local reporting from the Western Isles: