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Warning over water shortages with some north rivers running low


By Alan Hendry

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Helmsdale River during a previous spring. It is now among those experiencing a 'moderate scarcity' of water. Picture: Alan Hendry
Helmsdale River during a previous spring. It is now among those experiencing a 'moderate scarcity' of water. Picture: Alan Hendry

The prospect of water shortages in parts of northern Scotland has emerged in a new report from Scotland’s environmental regulator.

Groundwater levels in some districts are said to be "extremely low", with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) predicting that changing weather patterns caused by climate change will make this increasingly common.

It is warning of "an increasing water scarcity situation in the north-east and Highlands", with businesses that abstract water all year round being encouraged to take steps to reduce their water usage.

This follows on from a spring in which there was exceptionally low groundwater levels as well as the third driest April on record.

The agency's latest water situation report reveals that low river levels in parts of the Highlands have led to some catchments – including Helmsdale and Naver – being classed as "moderate scarcity".

SEPA says: "Dry ground conditions and low river levels remain widespread across the north of Scotland. Storage in many lochs has also fallen to very low levels."

On a colour-coded map issued by SEPA, "moderate scarcity" is the fourth most serious of five designated levels – ranging from "normal conditions" to "significant scarcity" – and it applies to a large swathe of north and east Sutherland, along with Moray and part of the north-east. All of Caithness is contained within the third level, classified as "alert", as are Easter Ross and another section of the north-east.

All other areas of the Highlands and Islands and the north-east are in the second category, "early warning", with "normal conditions" applying to the rest of Scotland.

The regulator also points out that "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". It says low water levels are likely to continue into 2021.

Businesses looking for information on water scarcity and meeting licence conditions are urged to contact SEPA at WaterScarcity@sepa.org.uk

Those in agriculture who are still abstracting water are asked to stagger abstractions with other operators and, where possible, reduce the volume of water being abstracted. They are encouraged to switch to other supplies or suspend abstractions if possible.

SEPA chief executive Terry A’Hearn said: “The severity of the water scarcity picture in parts of the north of Scotland is further evidence that water scarcity will become more and more prevalent across Scotland – 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.”



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