The reservoir was built by Skipton Urban District Council to service the needs of a rapidly rising population in the area. Forty acres of Embsay Pasture were compulsorily purchased in 1905, and work started almost immediately, with the main contract being awarded to the specialist company, Messrs G H Hill and Son. Work was completed before the end of 1909, and the reservoir was full by January 10 of the following year. It was officially opened on June 21, 1910. No dwelling houses were submerged.
The reservoir is used for leisure activities such as sailing, fishing, and walking, and is the home of the Craven Sailing Club. There are car parking facilities for visitors.