Water Industry News

Water Scarcity Warning Issued For Scottish Businesses

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has just released its first water scarcity report for 2023, revealing that northern, western and central parts of the country have already reached early warning levels for water scarcity… and, as such, businesses abstracting water are now being encouraged to put plans in place for potential water shortages come the summer months.


The last six months have seen particularly mixed weather conditions, with most of the country experiencing a drier than average winter, following on from a predominantly wet autumn. February 2023, meanwhile, was especially dry and this has helped to deliver lower than normal river flows and groundwater levels for this time of year.


Last year really drove home the impacts of water scarcity in Scotland, particularly in the east of the country. Groundwater levels in this part of Scotland were at their lowest since records began in 2009, driven by below average rainfall in eight out of the 12 months.


Steps were taken by the organisation in August and September 2022 to help protect the natural environment from the effects of prolonged dry weather, with suspensions imposed on 175 water abstraction licences across four catchment areas.


To help achieve its environmental goals, compliance and support was required on the part of local businesses, mainly in the agricultural sector operating around the rivers Ythan, Tweed, Tyne and Eden. It was necessary for abstractors to stop taking water from these sources or reduce abstraction volumes in order to allow water levels to recover.


This new SEPA report comes after the latest IPCC publication on climate change (which was released in March) revealed that the global window of opportunity to deliver a sustainable future is now closing rapidly, with meaningful action now a very real necessity for all countries all over the world… including Scotland.

Although Scotland is famous for its wet weather and natural water environment, it’s important to bear in mind that water is by no means an infinite resource, even north of the border. Thanks to climate change, Scotland is expected to see hotter, drier summers and this means that it is now time for the country to change how it views and interacts with water.


Head of water and planning at SEPA Nathan Critchlow-Watton said: “Given the mixed weather we’ve experienced in autumn and winter and the fact that some parts are already at early warning level, what happens next will shape the risk of water scarcity this summer. We can’t rule out a repeat of the water shortages businesses experienced last year.


“It’s vital that water abstractors licensed by SEPA have a plan to deal with water scarcity and we can help by providing advice and guidance on ways to reduce pressure on the water environment.


“Taking the right steps now will lower the likelihood of resources reaching a critical level again this summer and SEPA having to suspend licences to protect the water environment.”


Sarah Cowie, environmental resources policy manager at NFUS, made further comments, observing that water is a particularly vital resource for the agricultural sector and it is impossible to produce food without a plentiful and consistent supply of water.


Abstraction licences were suspended for some growers for the first time by the SEPA last year, highlighting the impacts of climate change and what pressure it can put on farm businesses in particular.

She went on to add: “NFUS encourages all farmers and growers to think about water use on farms as early as possible to plan for the coming summer season. This will ensure businesses can remain resilient at all times of the year.”


What should businesses do?


The SEPA is now calling on water abstractors all over the country, regardless of what industry they’re in, to ensure that they’re aware of the potential risk of water scarcity come the summer month. Monitoring water usage and consumption is an advisable course of action, as is planning ahead for a range of different weather conditions.


Carrying out a review of available options would enable businesses to increase their resilience and reduce the possible impacts of water scarcity issues in the future. For example, investing in the appropriate equipment and infrastructure would help deliver water use efficiency gains.


Compare business water


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