OVER 35,000 homes in Inverclyde ended up affected by an 'unprecedented' loss of water supplies after Loch Thom froze over and an investigation is now under way to prevent any repeat.

Scottish Water drafted in a team of six specialist divers after a 900mm intake pipe that transfers 525 litres of water each second at the Greenock Water Treatment Works at Loch Thom reservoir seized up in sub-zero temperatures on Saturday.

The team battled for more than eight hours to clear ice from the inlet screen as a huge effort was also made on the ground to set up bottled water distribution points and draft in 29 tankers to supplement the network.

Scottish Water operations general manager Kes Juskowiak says he has never known an incident like it.

He told the Tele: "While 13,000 homes were initially thought to be affected by the loss of supply, it was established that around 35,000 homes were caught up in the events.

"A dive team who were drafted in from Edinburgh-based Harbour and Marine Divers to help worked from 6am until 9pm restoring the water in really tough conditions.

"We are all trained in managing large incidents like this, but we normally see smaller reservoirs in areas in the Western Isles affected, nothing like this.

"In my entire career I'd say it's within the top three biggest operations I've ever been part of."

Water bottle sites were set up at Battery Park and Waterfront Leisure Centre and the emergency team had made plans for another at Kip Marina if the supply was not restored.

While the operation was challenging on its own, Kes says Covid-19 made everything much more difficult.

He said: "At the drive-through water distribution sites we had to make sure all staff were safe and compliant with government guidelines.

"In addition, we ensured two tankers were situated at Inverclyde Royal Hospital and also took into consideration the vaccination centres - we didn't want distribution to be affected.

"The team worked so hard and over 100 individuals were involved in getting things running again, including members of staff who are local to Inverclyde.

"It was a real community effort."

Kes confirmed that a probe has been launched by Scottish Water to ensure the problem does not happen again.

During the operation, divers removed several cubic meters of ice from the choked infrastructure and one of the team dived in a 40ft-deep chamber with around 20ft of water to open a valve and allow water to flow through an alternative intake pipe.

David Seales, Scottish Water’s water operations team manager in the west, said: "I’ve been working with Scottish Water for around 25 years now and in all those years I have never seen anything like this happen at an asset of this size.

"Under normal conditions, up to 525 litres of water flows through that intake pipe each second, so it was a phenomenal volume of water to have frozen.

"It was one of the most challenging situations I’ve ever come up against.

"It was a fantastic team effort and I’d like to thank everyone involved for all of their hard work in such difficult conditions."