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Water scarcity situation worsens in Scotland despite week of thunderstorms

Date published: 23 June 2023


While heavy, thundery showers across the country have led to some very localised recovery of rivers and groundwater, they have not been enough to sufficiently replenish levels and water scarcity conditions continue to get worse.

Part of the River Esk area in Dumfries and Galloway is the second in Scotland to reach the highest water scarcity level in the most recent report published by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). It joins Loch Maree in the Highlands, which remains at Significant for a third week.

While heavy, thundery showers across the country have led to some very localised recovery of rivers and groundwater, they have not been enough to sufficiently replenish levels and conditions continue to get worse.

The Conon river area in the Highlands and the Outer Hebrides have now been escalated to Moderate Scarcity, where the southwest and much of central Scotland remain. Without further rainfall, these areas risk reaching Significant. The rest of the country is in Alert level.

Protecting our water environment

Authorised water abstractors in Loch Maree and River Esk areas already have conditions as part of their permits to protect the environment against low river flows, and no additional restrictions are required by SEPA.

However, as further areas reach Significant water scarcity, action will be required to protect the sustainability of local water environments. SEPA understands the impacts on businesses facing these challenging conditions and is working to avoid full suspensions on abstractions; where possible, measures to significantly reduce the volume of water taken from rivers and lochs will be implemented.

Head of Water and Planning at SEPA, Nathan Critchlow-Watton said:

“We know the pressures facing Scottish businesses right know, including Scotland's farmers, and the importance of the food and drink they produce. That's why we're determined to protect our environment whilst supporting Scotland during prolonged dry periods such as this.

“Our approach is proportionate, aiming to help those businesses using the least water and whose activities are most efficient to continue operating.

“This is a temporary position, recognising the impact suspensions can have on businesses, but it’s important abstractors understand the need to work with us now and in future years to adapt to water scarcity.”

Advice and guidance

SEPA is liaising with all sectors that abstract water from the environment, including agriculture, food and drink and leisure. Businesses are expected to put in place additional mitigation now to minimise the impacts of continued abstraction.

Guidance has been issued on which abstractors may be excluded from restrictions or have the volume of water they can take reduced rather than stopped. This will not be possible for all abstractors. SEPA will be in direct contact with businesses affected to provide additional advice.

Abstractors and irrigators are asked to manage water wisely, check SEPA’s water scarcity reports regularly and be aware of the situation in their area. They should regularly check abstraction equipment to make sure it’s in good condition and fix any leaks straight away. During dry periods, the volume and rate of abstractions should be reduced where possible.

It is also crucial for businesses to have a contingency plan for if restrictions are put in place by SEPA on abstractions. This can include using an alternative source if available within current authorisations.

More information, guidance and advice can be found on the water scarcity page.

Notes to editors

  • View the latest water scarcity report.
  • Guidance has been published on our website detailing which abstractors may be excluded from restrictions or will have the volume they can take reduced rather than stopped.
  • Further information on water efficiency measures can also be found on the Farm Advisory Service, NetRegs, and Farming & Water Scotland.
  • The National Water Scarcity Plan explains how water resources will be managed prior to and during periods of prolonged dry weather.
  • While SEPA focuses on managing abstractions from Scotland’s natural water resources for agriculture and other industrial uses, Scottish Water maintains public water supply.