August 5, 2008

Families Braced As Reservoir Threatens to Burst Houses at Risk After Heavy Rains Damage Old Dam


SEVERAL families were forced to spend the night away from their homes as emergency workers attempted to prevent a reservoir from bursting its banks.

A number of homes were evacuated amid concerns that water from the Maich Trout Fishery reservoir in Renfrewshire could crash down the hillside into the Kilbirnie Loch, damaging houses and trees in its path and putting lives at risk.

The 100-year-old reservoir, which overlooks the village of Lochwinnoch, started to over-fill on Friday night following heavy rainfall, with a hole in the dam's sluice wall rendering its overflow function useless.

Seven households were advised to evacuate their properties as a precaution with five taking the advice of police and leaving their homes.

Farmers have moved their livestock out of fields close to the waterway.

Colin Webster, an engineer, who lives in the area of Kerse outside Lochwinnoch, was one of the householders advised to leave his home as the reservoir threatened to burst its banks.

He said he was confident that the worst of the threat had passed.

Mr Webster, 50, said: "My assessment of the situation is that there is a 20 to 30per cent risk of the dam bursting. I think the danger has passed, although that is only my personal opinion. I think it is over the worst.

"We were advised yesterday to leave by the police. It was suggested strongly that we do so.

"My initial concern was that if the dam broke, you would have something like a tsunami rushing down the hillside. My original plan was to move the furniture upstairs and barricade the house.

"I got my Ordnance Survey map out and looking at it more logically, I concluded that the size of the rivers could cope with the water coming from a reservoir that size. I don't think you would get the deluge that I first feared."

Neighbour Alan Blair, of East Kerse farm, said that he had moved his grazing cattle from a field close to Maich Water, which would take much of the reservoir if it was to burst, but added that he did not have to move out of his home given that it sat on higher ground.

The private reservoir is situated within the Ladyland Estate, roughly 300 acres of land owned by Peter Ross, and was leased to fishing clubs.

A spokesman for Scottish Environment Protection Agency said maintenance of the dam, which is said to be in poor condition would be the responsibility of its owner.

Estates factor Ian McIlwraith said: "Part of the dam wall collapsed three years ago. The wall was constructed before the dam was formed and the foundations of the wall were underwater.

"In practical terms, fixing it would have been next to impossible but it had survived some exceptional weather conditions without problem.

"The weather is now on our side, the pumps are in place and hopefully the risk will be alleviated as quickly as possible.

"We need to pump out the water to reduce pressure on the dam. Hopefully once that's been done, the engineers will work out how to deal with this in a longer-term manner."

The reservoir was last rented to Jackie McGouff, of Paisley, who ran a fishing club on the waters. On Friday, he handed back the keys to the fishery given the safety concerns on the site.

Mr McGouff said: "The flash floods took away the earth on the banking. That always worked as an overflow in itself, but the extra water has opened up a 25 to 30ft chasm.

"That used to be a safe walking area but that is no longer the case. There is about a metre-and-a-half of earth left. If there is heavy rain on Wednesday, as predicted, the whole thing could completely go."

He added: "There was a break in the dam wall and we tried to patch it up with gabian baskets, which are filled with stones and pebbles. But the reservoir at the end of last week was two metres higher than it should be and the dam wall couldn't cope with the water."

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