SEPA warns of low water levels across Scotland

  02 July 2021
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is warning of an increasing water scarcity situation across the country with Northwest Scotland, Clyde, Ayrshire, Orkney and the Western Isles moving to Alert level. Most of the rest of the country is moving to the Early Warning tier, with Irvine and Ayr raised to Moderate Scarcity level.
  • SEPA is providing information for businesses that abstract water year-round on actions to take as resources reach critically low levels.
  • Changing weather patterns caused by climate change means water scarcity will become more common in Scotland.
  • Businesses looking for information on water scarcity and meeting licence conditions urged to visit the SEPA website or contact SEPA at WaterScarcity@sepa.org.uk

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has warned of an increasing water scarcity situation across much of Scotland, with businesses which abstract water all year round being encouraged to take steps to reduce their water usage.

The latest weekly water situation report published by SEPA shows that the majority of the country has been raised to Early Warning level as conditions could deteriorate rapidly if the dry weather continues.

June has seen below average rainfall across the country and ground conditions have continued to dry rapidly over the past two weeks.

In north and south-western areas where they have experienced a relatively dry spring, many rivers have had prolonged low flows and depleted water resources.

River levels are now also low across eastern catchment areas - not unusual for the time of year - but with low rainfall forecast in the short term this situation could continue and result in impacts to the environment and affect water supplies. As a result, catchments between north Fife and Aberdeen have also been raised to alert level.

Groundwater levels are falling but so far remain within the normal range for the time of year.

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.

Water is a resource that underpins key industries across Scotland, from food and drink production through to farming and golf course management, and while some businesses abstract seasonally, others need access to water all year round.

Those reliant on private water supplies are also feeling the effects of water scarcity. Of 22,000 private water supplies, almost 4,000 provide water to large numbers of domestic properties or businesses, including tourist accommodation, schools and care homes.

Businesses have been asked to act in order to mitigate the impacts of depleted resources in the area. These actions are:

  • Those in the agriculture sector still abstracting should stagger abstractions with other operators
  • Where possible reduce the volume of water being abstracted
  • Switch to other supplies or suspend abstractions if possible

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

Changing climate patterns and extreme rainfall events put us in a position where an area can be experiencing water scarcity but still suffer from surface water flooding.

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

“The severity of the water scarcity picture in part of Scotland is further evidence that water scarcity will become more and more prevalent – and is just one of the many consequences of climate change the country faces.

“SEPA’s strategy for tackling this definitive challenge of our time is called ‘one planet prosperity’, focused on helping our communities and businesses thrive within the resources of our one planet.

“That is why it is important for businesses that abstract water to understand that SEPA is here to offer support and guidance, and we are setting out the key measures abstractors should be taking to conserve water, which is shared and finite.

“We want to work with businesses to plan long-term about their water usage so that we can preserve the resource as effectively as possible. This will protect both Scotland’s rivers and lochs and reduce their business risks.”

More information on water scarcity can be found at sepa.org.uk/ water-scarcity. Businesses having difficulty obtaining water supply or that are concerned about meeting licence conditions should contact SEPA at WaterScarcity@sepa.org.uk. Those concerned about private water supply levels should contact their local authority.

 

NOTES TO EDITORS

Links for further information

  • Information about water scarcity including weekly updates can be found at - sepa.org.uk/water-scarcity.
  • 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.
  • SEPA’s regulatory response to COVID-19 - coronavirus.sepa.org.uk
  • Those concerned about private water supply levels can contact their local authority.
  • Scotland’s climate is changing – from periods of drought to extreme flooding, the weather patterns we are experiencing, as a result of climate change, mean we all have a duty to more carefully manage the country’s resources – and water is no different.