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by Margaret Taylor
29 July 2022
Sepa prepares water-reliant businesses for a ban on abstraction as dry weather continues

The River Dee in Aberdeenshire is among those experiencing scarcity

Sepa prepares water-reliant businesses for a ban on abstraction as dry weather continues

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has warned businesses that use large amounts of water that they may temporarily be banned from doing so as a result of the dry weather.

The environmental regulator, which issues licences to agricultural and industrial businesses that rely on abstracting large volumes of groundwater, said that areas in mid and north Fife are likely to have a significant scarcity of water within the next week.   

Water is moderately scarce – the second-highest level – in areas around the rivers Ythan, Dee and Don in the north east, the rivers Almond and Tyne in the Lothians and the Firth of Forth and Firth of Tay. The Tweed in the Borders has also entered that category after the area saw less rainfall than the rest of the country last week.

Nathan Critchlow-Watton, head of water and planning at Sepa, noted that abstraction is likely to be put on hold because groundwater levels are currently the lowest they have been since records began in 2009 and are not expected to improve in the short term.

“Even in parts where there has been some rainfall and an immediate increase in river flows, the areas still remain vulnerable due to longer-term rainfall deficits and very dry ground conditions,” he said.

“That is why it is important for businesses that abstract water to take action and reduce their current usage, minimising the effects on the environment.

“Sepa is here to offer support and guidance, and each week we set out the key measures abstractors should be taking to conserve water.

“Climate change means water scarcity will become even more frequent. We want to work with businesses to plan their water usage long term, so that we can preserve this vital resource as effectively as possible.

“Not only will that protect Scotland’s rivers and lochs, but it will minimise business risks as well.”

A number of business areas including golf and whisky production rely on abstracting ground or river water in order to function, but the agricultural sector is one of the most heavily impacted when a ban is put in place.

Sarah Cowie, environmental resources policy manager at industry body NFU Scotland, said that while water is vital for food production farmers need to “take steps to ensure the continued supply of water and avoid disruption”.

“Farmers are encouraged to irrigate when, and only as much as, absolutely necessary,” she said.

“When irrigating land, they should check equipment isn’t leaking, don’t over spray, and use trickle irrigation where appropriate.

“We also encourage irrigators to stagger abstractions with other operators in their catchment area, reduce the volume used, and irrigate at night where possible.”

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