SEPA warns abstractors to take action as water scarcity risk increases

  23 July 2021
Businesses and individuals abstracting water are being warned that action is needed now to protect water resources.

The latest weekly Water Scarcity Situation Report from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) shows that the majority of the country is now seeing the impacts of water scarcity and conditions are deteriorating as the dry weather continues. 

  • Significant scarcity – Helmsdale and Naver
  • Moderate scarcity – Wick, Cree, Doon, Ayr and Irvine
  • Alert – Findhorn, Ythan, Clyde and Arran
  • Early warning – the rest of the country with the exception of Loch Linnhe and Lochy which remain in normal conditions.

The longer-term forecast suggests that there is an increased likelihood of hot, dry weather compared to normal, with a greater chance of impacts from hot weather.  

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 to do this, 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 stress 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.  

Rainfall and records

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.
  • Wet weather in early May partly balanced this in some areas of the country, but in others it remained quite dry.
  • Scotland as a whole had less than half the normal rainfall for June (45%) and was 1.4 degrees C warmer than usual. Ground conditions continued to dry rapidly over the last two weeks of the month.
  • While the beginning of July saw some locally intense rain, but it was not enough to lead to a sustained improvement. 

Some rivers in the Highlands are returning levels that have not been seen for several years. 

  • River Strathy is currently at its lowest since records began in 1985
  • River Brora is currently experiencing its third longest period of low flow since records began in 1993. 
  • Rivers in the Helmsdale, Naver and Thurso catchment are also experiencing similar prolonged period of low flows.

Water is a finite resource – even in Scotland

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

“Everyone agrees that water is a vital resource. We need to get used to the idea that, even in Scotland, it is a finite resource - as shown by the increasing severity of the water scarcity picture in large areas of the country. This is just one of the many consequences of climate change Scotland is facing, and it is becoming more common.  

“Water scarcity is resulting in pressures on the environment and water users and businesses abstracting water must take action now to conserve water. My message is clear: SEPA is here to offer support and guidance, so if you are having difficulty obtaining water supply or are concerned about meeting licence conditions get in touch. If you work with us and try to do the right thing in this next period, you will find a helpful and supportive regulator. If you deliberately do the wrong thing, then you’ll get the uncompromising regulator your behaviour deserves."

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 having to produce more than 200 million litres of extra water per day nationwide 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



Links for further information

  • Due to a problem with data availability in Shetland, the Water Scarcity level for Shetland has changed from Normal Conditions to No Data.
  • Information about water scarcity including weekly updates can be found at - 
  • The National Water Scarcity Plan explains how water resources will be managed prior to and during periods of prolonged dry weather. This is to ensure the correct balance is struck between protecting the environment and providing resource for human and economic activity.  
  • Advice for abstractors and other water users - Advice for abstractors | Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)
  • SEPA’s regulatory response to COVID-19 -