Scotland's water quality

  18 May 2023

Nathan Critchlow-Watton, Head of Water and Planning at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) said:  

“Scotland’s water quality is at its highest level ever, with 87% of our water environment rated as good or better. This year, Scotland also has a record-breaking number of bathing waters rated as ‘excellent’.   

“We welcome the increased public interest in the environment we all share, and the growing aspirations – heard loud and clear – for our water environment. The River Basin Management plan sets a water quality target for 92% of the water environment to be in good or better condition by 2027. In many parts of Scotland our wastewater infrastructure, like other areas in the UK, is a legacy from the Victorian era. Recognising the huge national undertaking that will be required to upgrade it means focussing effort where it will have the biggest impact for the environment and communities.  

 We’re clear in our regulatory role in ensuring Scottish Water delivers against the Urban Waters Route Map, prioritising investment where it will most benefit our environment and communities. Scottish Water has committed to installing monitors on every CSO discharging to a Bathing or Shellfish Water by the end of 2024, with near real-time monitoring published for all these monitored CSOs by the end 2024. SEPA will ensure this commitment is delivered.  

“While Scotland already enjoys some of the best water quality in Europe, SEPA is focused on ensuring improvement continues in the years ahead. We’ll do that by working together with public partners and regulated businesses, using our enforcement powers when necessary.”  

Notes to editor: 

  • There are a number of causes of water quality issues in Scotland. These can include sewer overflows, diffuse pollution (surface water run-off from land and urban areas) and private sewerage systems. 
  • The Water Environment Hub ( shows all the information for the River Basin Management Plans detailing the condition of watercourses across Scotland and any pressures they are facing.
  • The national plan to improve urban waters, was required by SEPA and Scottish Water published this in 2021. The plan set out the efforts required to tackle the most significant environmental impacts as soon as possible. The route map details the actions required by Scottish Water, as a public body and responsible authority for River Basin Management Planning. SEPA is clear in our regulatory role in ensuring Scottish Water delivers against its Urban Waters Route Map and River Basin Management Plan objectives.
  • SEPA and Scottish Water are prioritising the 1,000 monitors committed to under the route map, initially focusing on bathing waters and shellfish waters and their assets within two kilometres of the designations. The timescale for the installation of all 1,000 monitors is December 2024.