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Plea to public over water use following record dry period throughout Scotland

By Gordon Calder

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PEOPLE in Caithness and elsewhere in Scotland are being urged to use water efficiently this autumn following a record dry period and low reservoir levels.

The plea comes as Scottish Water says "maintaining normal public water supplies remains a significant challenge for us".

Met Office data shows the north and west of the country experienced its driest April-September in 160 years, while for Scotland it was the second driest on record for the same period.

In Caithness, water levels in Wick and Thurso rivers plummeted while the Old Pulteney distillery in Wick had to temporarily suspend production due to a shortage of water.

Summer 2021 was Wick's driest since 1955 and the second most dry the town has experienced since 1910. Photograph by DGS
Summer 2021 was Wick's driest since 1955 and the second most dry the town has experienced since 1910. Photograph by DGS

Now, Scottish Water and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) are calling on householders and businesses to help protect supplies throughout autumn and into winter.

Officials at SEPA say the significant rainfall deficit over recent month means double the normal amount of autumn rain is needed to return water levels in some areas back to normal for this time of year.

Kes Juskowiak, national water operations manager for Scottish Water, said: "People might assume that, because we are into autumn and there has been some rain recently, and autumn is usually cooler and wetter, water saving is no longer an issue.

"Maintaining normal public water supplies remains a significant challenge for us. This is an unusual call in the autumn, but we are experiencing exceptional circumstances due to a significant rainfall deficit.

"Hopefully, autumn will bring some respite, but we need heavy and prolonged rainfall to get reservoir levels back up towards normal levels for this time of year.

"We are constantly monitoring weather systems across Scotland and assessing their impact on our water sources, working closely with SEPA. However, the public can make an important contribution towards protecting supplies by taking small, simple steps to reduce water use.”

Scottish Water has 189 reservoirs or lochs it uses for drinking water supplies and a total of 400 sources, including rivers, boreholes and springs.

David Harley, head of water and planning at SEPA, said: "Scotland is facing a climate emergency, with more frequent extreme weather, ranging from significant water scarcity to sea level rises, heavy rainfall and flash floods, which can be devastating to communities, public services and local businesses.

"What we are seeing now is the strange phenomena of short-term wet weather against a backdrop of longer term prolonged dry spells which not only causes immediate challenges, but also concerns for the medium term and into 2022.

"Across the period, working with Scottish Water, we’ve asked both communities and the companies we work with to be vigilant and responsible over their water use. With continued strain on the water environment, we are asking households and businesses to be extra vigilant now, to reduce demand and keep our water resources flowing."

Simple measures which can be taken in and around the home include taking shorter showers, turning taps off, and using appliances like dishwashers and washing machines only when fully loaded. Businesses and commercial premises are being asked to reduce non-essential water use.

Operations are taking place around the country to supplement water sources and make adjustments to the networks.

New infrastructure has been installed in some reservoirs and work has taken place with industrial customers to provide alternative sources to safeguard supplies in some areas. Work to detect leaks across the network has also been ongoing.

Low reservoir levels – and in some cases when they begin to refill – has caused discolouration in some water supplies due to naturally occurring manganese. Enhanced treatment operations are taking place to reduce the impact of this for customers.

Scottish Water posts facts, tips, and activities on social media to raise awareness about why we need to save water and more information on saving water is available at www.scottishwater.co.uk/savewater.

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