Water abstractors have been warned that the risk of water scarcity is high, and they must adjust their water usage accordingly.

The latest weekly Water Scarcity Situation Report from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency shows that the majority of the country is now seeing the impacts of the dry weather – and conditions are deteriorating.

SEPA records significant scarcity at Helmsdale and Naver, and moderate scarcity in Wick, Cree, Doon, Ayr and Irvine. It has also issued alerts for Findhorn, Ythan, Clyde and Arran, and an early warning for the rest of the country, with the exception of Loch Linnhe and Lochy, which are the only sources that remain in normal conditions.

Water abstractors licenced by SEPA should have a plan to deal with the range of conditions they may experience, and should monitor their water usage and equipment to ensure they are operating at maximum efficiency and avoiding any unnecessary leakage. 

SEPA said that abstractors should take the right steps now to help make the water supplies on which they and others depend last as long as possible through this period –

• Work together to secure the water available – speak with other water users in your catchment to discuss allocating different times for abstracting to minimise any potential impacts;

• Check irrigation equipment is not leaking;

• Consider trickle irrigation;

• Irrigate at night to avoid evaporation if you can;

• Do not over-spray;

• Start planning now in case you need a new borehole to do this, or if your business is having difficulty obtaining water supply or is concerned about meeting licence conditions, you should contact SEPA as soon as possible at WaterScarcity@sepa.org.uk.

SEPA stressed that its staff were available to provide advice and guidance – but if businesses deliberately failed to follow the abstraction guidelines set out by SEPA, it may result in enforcement action. 

Scotland experienced an extremely dry April, with less than a third of the usual rainfall across a large part of the southern country, which prompted the agency to warn that scarcity could be an issue if a period of prolonged dry weather returned later in the year.

Wet weather in early May partly balanced this in some areas of the country, but in others it remained quite dry. Scotland as a whole had less than half the normal rainfall for June (45%) and was 1.4 degrees C warmer than usual. Ground conditions continued to dry rapidly over the last two weeks of the month. While the beginning of July saw some locally intense rain, but it was not enough to lead to a sustained improvement.

Some rivers in the Highlands are returning levels that have not been seen for several years – the River Strathy is currently at its lowest since records began in 1985; the River Brora is currently experiencing its third longest period of low flow since records began in 1993, and rivers in the Helmsdale, Naver and Thurso catchment are also experiencing similarly prolonged periods of low flow.

SEPA chief executive Terry A’Hearn, said: “Everyone agrees that water is a vital resource. We need to get used to the idea that, even in Scotland, it is a finite resource – as shown by the increasing severity of the water scarcity picture in large areas of the country. This is just one of the many consequences of climate change Scotland is facing, and it is becoming more common. 

“Water scarcity is resulting in pressures on the environment and water users and businesses abstracting water must take action now to conserve water. My message is clear – SEPA is here to offer support and guidance, so if you are having difficulty obtaining water supply or are concerned about meeting licence conditions get in touch. If you work with us and try to do the right thing in this next period, you will find a helpful and supportive regulator. If you deliberately do the wrong thing, then you’ll get the uncompromising regulator your behaviour deserves."