Water environment under stress as parts of Fife reach Significant Scarcity

  05 August 2022
Parts of Fife have now reached the highest level for water scarcity, as below average rainfall in the east of Scotland continues to cause stress on the environment.
  • Areas in mid and north Fife are now in a Significant Scarcity situation, with the Tweed catchment counting down to a similar position. 
  • SEPA considers there is now clear evidence for additional steps to protect the sustainability of local water environments in line with Scotland’s National Water Scarcity Plan. 
  • SEPA to confirm next steps and further engage with farmers next week. 
  • Any actions to protect local water environments would be for the minimum time necessary and would be lifted as soon as possible. 

Parts of Fife have now reached the highest level for water scarcity, as below average rainfall in the east of Scotland continues to cause stress on the environment.  

The latest water scarcity report, published on Friday 5 August, reveals mid and north Fife are now at Significant Scarcity, with the River Tweed catchment in the Borders expected to reach the same level in the next few days. 

In line with Scotland’s National Water Scarcity Plan, The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is engaging with businesses affected, most of which are in the agriculture sector, and plans to confirm next steps with farmers next week.  

There is clear evidence further action is needed to protect the sustainability of local water environments as the combination of very low flows and high temperatures poses a real threat to fish, invertebrates and plants. While some parts of river ecology can recover quickly, others such as fish and plant populations can be seriously damaged longer-term or lost completely. 

The current conditions are a consequence of drier weather this year, with only 4 of the last 12 months recording above average rainfall. The east of Scotland in particular experienced the driest January in more than 80 years and groundwater levels are the lowest they have been since records began in 2009.  

David Harley, Interim Chief Officer Circular Economy for SEPA, said: 

“It is clear that a significant area of Scotland’s water environment is stressed from the prolonged dry weather this summer, and conditions are only going to get worse as this continues. Although there has been some recent rainfall in the east, it is not enough to recover the longer-term deficits. 

“SEPA understands the impacts on businesses facing these difficult conditions and supports sectors reliant on water all year round on ways to become more resilient. However, it is vital we work together now to ensure the sustainability of local water environments for all who rely on them. 

“As we’ve seen across Europe, water scarcity is becoming more common as a result of climate change. Water abstractors concerned about meeting licence conditions or wishing to discuss contingency measures are encouraged to contact SEPA by emailing waterscarcity@sepa.org.uk." 

For more information on water scarcity and to view the latest report, visit www.sepa.org.uk/waterscarcity  

ENDS 

Notes to editor

  • 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.
  • The weekly water scarcity report, published by SEPA between May and September, categorises the water situation across Scotland through a five-tiered approach. Appropriate action should be taken within these five categories:
  • Normal Conditions - abstract as normal.
  • Early warning - start to consider how you can optimise water use efficiency.
  • Alert - if you are irrigating your land, check equipment, don’t over spray, use trickle irrigation and irrigate at night to avoid evaporation.
  • Moderate scarcity - in prolonged dry periods, reduce abstractions by staggering with other operators, reduce the volume and switch to other supplies or suspend your abstractions.
  • Significant scarcity - this means Scotland’s water resources are becoming scarce - switch supplies or temporarily stop abstracting.
  • Previous press releases relating to water scarcity can be found on our media centre.