Letter from Coll makes plea for safe water supply

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Coll has sent a plea to Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse to help quench a need for water safe enough to drink.

There are 180 homes on Coll but only the 70 houses in the main village of Arinagour are on a mains supply, the others either have to use a  public tap near the pier toilets, collect rainwater in butts or bore holes to find water, which can be costly and is not guaranteed to come up trumps – it took one homeowner five attempts costing a total of £60,000 to get down to water, another couple who built their own house had to quit because of it and move into a council-owned property.

Lockdown has exacerbated the problem that has been ongoing for more than 10 years. Many of the island’s population are meant to be shielding but are having to run the risk of coming into contact with others by making trips to collect water from the only public tap.

To maintain social distancing  rules, some islanders are having to rise extra early or leave their homes late at night just to get their daily water.

Islands councillor Mary Jean Devon is still waiting for a response from Mr Wheelhouse to her letter on behalf of Coll, highlighting the problem, outlining the need for support and suggesting a short-term fix would be to have bottled water delivered to those who need it.

Councillor Devon also pointed out in her letter that the island is home to a charity set up in 1967 that has since sent more than 8,000 young volunteers to third world countries – ironically their projects have included bringing water aid to remote communities.

‘It’s ironic most homes on their own island still do not have their own safe and reliable water supply,’ she said, adding that Argyll and Bute Council is currently working hard with the elected members and the community to make progress.

‘The council has gone away from our latest meeting to talk to Scottish Water,’ Councillor Devon told The Oban Times.

A survey back in 2010 flagged up the need for a better water supply but to date, more than a decade on, no progress had been made to make improvements.

Recently a series of meetings were held – last week saw a third meeting between islanders and councillors to find a permanent solution that will require greater resilience planning and appropriate support.

Councillor Roddy McCuish  said: ‘We see regular adverts on TV promoting Scottish Water’s clean water yet on Coll there are people still having to go to a standpipe to get clean water. It’s a disgrace.’

Coll resident Julian Senior said: ‘There have been people risking breaking lockdown to come out and get water because there might be others there at the same time. Some are going as early as 6am in the hope of not meeting anyone.

‘It’s a terribly complicated affair. It’s a big problem for now, in the short, medium and long distance. It’s not good for public health and it’s holding back the island’s economic development – it doesn’t do anything to encourage young families to settle here either.’

A Scottish Water spokesperson said properties which have private water supplies fall under the remit of the local authority environmental health department.

As part of its current 2021-2027 capital programme Scottish Water expects to engage with customers and communities on a wide range of topics, including investment priorities which may include rural provision schemes, but the process is still in the early stages of development.

‘We can assist customers who are looking to connect onto the public network, however, presently this work would need to be funded privately. If appropriate standards are met, we can then adopt the network and make a reasonable cost contribution towards the work,’ added the spokesperson.