SEPA helps businesses as significant levels of water scarcity continue across worst affected areas

  06 August 2021
SEPA is working closely with businesses and individuals abstracting water to find alternative sources and protect the environment in areas affected by significant water scarcity, including in Galloway where local farmers say the drought is the “most severe witnessed in a generation”.

SEPA is working closely with businesses and individuals abstracting water to find alternative water sources in areas affected by significant water scarcity, including in Galloway during what local farmers say the drought is the “most severe witnessed in a generation”. 

  • The Helmsdale and Naver catchments have improved from Significant to Moderate Scarcity
  • Significant and Moderate Scarcity remains in place in many areas of northern and south-western Scotland
  • The Firth of Forth, Almond and Tyne (Lothian) catchments have been raised to Alert
  • Many areas in the south and east of Scotland remain at Alert 

Warnings have been issued across Scotland that action is needed now to protect water resources. Areas affected by water scarcity due to recent warm, dry weather were often not the same areas as those hit by flooding last week. 

Over the coming week, some surface water recovery is likely in areas where rainfall is forecast. However, a significant and sustained period of rainfall is needed to alleviate the very dry ground conditions and low river flows that persist across much of the country. 

Alert Levels 

Significant and Moderate Scarcities remain in place in many areas of northern and south-western Scotland with areas around the Firth of Forth, Almond and Tyne (Lothian) catchments raised to Alert. 

  • Significant Scarcity - Wigtownshire area of Galloway, and the Wick area of Caithness
  • Moderate Scarcity – Helmsdale and Naver, Western Isles, Orkney, Doon, Ayr, Clyde and Irvine 
  • Alert – most catchments in the south of Scotland, many catchments down the east coast as well as a few west coast catchments 
  • Early Warning – the rest of the country with the exception of Spey, Loch Linnhe and Lochy which remain in normal conditions. 

The latest weekly Water Scarcity Situation Report from SEPA shows that, despite heavy rainfall and thundery showers across much of mainland Scotland last week and rainfall forecast this weekend, the majority of the country is still seeing the impacts of water scarcity. 

A short period of heavy rainfall is not sufficient to make up the shortfall of rainfall and much of it may quickly run off dry soils without soaking in. This is why it is possible to have heavy rain and even the possibility of some surface water flooding at the same time as we are warning about water scarcity. 

SEPA is engaging directly with operators that hold abstraction licenses to advise of the ongoing situation and ensure best practice is being followed and helping to find solutions. Priority assistance is being given to those for whom abstraction is critical for the business. SEPA is implementing a fast track of CAR licences to support businesses and a temporary suspension of abstraction to protect the environment in areas of Significant Scarcity. 

SEPA has been working closely this week with Girvan Early Growers, a co-operative of local farmers in Ayrshire, on alternative sources of water to irrigate their crops, following the temporary suspension of their SEPA abstraction licence due to the severity of the water scarcity issue. 

The collective, which already has a range of measures implemented to save water, is facing an extremely challenging growing season. 

Andrew Young, Chairman of Girvan Early Growers said: “Over the last 30 years we have invested as heavily in irrigation equipment as we could to try and make best use of the water available for our high value crops.  

“Through good dialogue with our local SEPA representative, we have managed to sort out water availability and kept our customers supplied with the quality required. However this year, despite the investment and support to avoid this situation, we are struggling as the drought is the most severe we have witnessed in a generation.” 

Terry A’Hearn, Chief Executive at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, said:   

“Everyone agrees that water is a vital resource and everyone has a part to play in reducing their water usage where possible. Even in Scotland – a country everyone associates with rain, water is a finite resource. 

“Water scarcity is resulting in pressures on the environment and water users and businesses abstracting water must take action now to conserve water. We will continue to work closely with businesses who abstract water to advise on the best possible use of their resources and share best practice. Agricultural abstraction on average reduces at this time of year, however we are working to assist with solutions for significant areas of impact such as Galloway where potato crops are being adversely impacted. 

“SEPA is monitoring the situation closely and rivers in the north are particularly low so plants and animals in those waters will be more at risk as a result. We are also receiving increased reports of Cyanobacteria blue green algae blooms which can occur naturally in warm dry weather. 

“We are very much living through more extreme weather patterns – and one does not balance out the other. This is just one of the many consequences of climate change Scotland is facing, and it is becoming more common.” 

Abstractors must take action now 

Water abstractors licenced by SEPA should have a plan to deal with the range of conditions they may experience. They should monitor their water usage and equipment to ensure they are operating at maximum efficiency and avoiding any unnecessary leakage.  

By taking the right steps now, abstractors can help make the water supplies on which they and others depend last as long as possible through this period. 

Work together to secure the water available - speak with other water users in your catchment to discuss allocating different times for abstracting to minimise any potential impacts. 

  • Check irrigation equipment is not leaking. 
  • Consider trickle irrigation. 
  • Irrigate at night to avoid evaporation if you can. 
  • Do not over-spray. 

Start planning now in case you need to - if you need a new borehole, if your business is having difficulty obtaining water supply or is concerned about meeting licence conditions you should contact SEPA as soon as possible at 

SEPA can provide advice on a series of straightforward steps that can be taken to reduce pressure on Scotland’s water environment and staff are available to provide advice and guidance. However, if businesses deliberately fail to follow the abstraction guidelines set out by SEPA this may result in enforcement action.   

Abstractors in catchments at Alert level or above, have been contacted to advise them of the conditions and relevant actions they should take as outlined in our National Water Scarcity Plan and requested to carry out checks to their equipment, consider upcoming water needs and follow best practice (such as irrigating at night). 

We are also checking all abstractions in Significant Scarcity areas to determine what actions can be taken and work is ongoing with Scottish Water to protect supplies. 

 Rainfall and records 

  • The River Strathy is currently at its lowest since records began in 1985.   
  • On Lewis and Harris, over the last four months rainfall has been only 60% of the long-term average. Rainfall in Wigtownshire has been below average for June and July so far.    
  • Across the Wigtown catchment, June rainfall has been less than 50%, and July less than 30%, of the long-term monthly rainfall averages. 
  • Scotland as a whole had less than half the normal rainfall for June (45%)  
  • Scotland was 1.4 degrees C warmer than usual. 

SEPA warned in the Spring that water scarcity conditions could deteriorate quickly if a period of prolonged dry weather returned later in the year. 

Scotland experienced an extremely dry April, with less than a third of the usual rainfall across a large part of the southern country. This caused water levels to fall rapidly and ground conditions became increasingly dry. 

Ground conditions continued to dry rapidly over the last two weeks of July despite heavy thunderstorms in some parts of the country. 

Recent rainfall has not been sufficient to markedly improve conditions, and so Significant and Moderate Scarcity levels remain in place for many areas in the north and southwest of Scotland, as well as Orkney and the Western Isles. Much of the east and northeast of the country is now at Alert.  

Over the coming week, some surface water recovery is likely in areas where rainfall is forecast. However, a significant and sustained period of rainfall is needed to alleviate the very dry ground conditions and low river flows that persist across much of the country. 

The short term forecast will see changeable conditions continuing to dominate, with a mixture of sunny and dry periods, showery periods and the chance of longer spells of rain. The second half of August will see more settled conditions where drier conditions may become more prevalent, although there is still the risk of showers or thunderstorms at times. 

Public and private water supplies 

Scottish Water is reminding people across Scotland to use water efficiently after confirming that demand is so high during the warm weather that it’s had to produce more than 200 million litres of extra water per day nationwide in the latter half of July to maintain normal supplies. More information on saving water is available at 

Those concerned about private water supply levels should contact their local authority.    

Concerns about watercourses 

SEPA continually assesses the impacts of prolonged periods of drier than average weather on our environment. The public can report dry private water supplies and rivers and burns in your area. This will help us have the best possible understanding of the impacts of dry weather. Send your information to 

Water scarcity and fish 

The prolonged period of dry weather that has led to water scarcity across the country can put a lot of pressure on rivers, which are running exceptionally low and experiencing high water temperatures. We may see impacts on wildlife across the country as a result, including dead fish. Heavy rain showers, such as those we have seen this week, following the prolonged period of dry weather, will wash pollutants that have been accumulating on roads and pavements and in drains into watercourses. This first flush of pollutants, particularly into rivers that are still low, can lead to fish kills.