Water shortages could be possible this summer with some parts of Scotland already recording low river levels and dry ground conditions, an environment watchdog has warned.
The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) has issued the first water scarcity report of 2023 showing parts of central, western and northern Scotland have reached the early warning level for water scarcity.
Scotland had a drier winter than average with a particularly dry February resulting in lower than normal river flows and groundwater levels for this time of year.
Weather conditions have been mixed over the last six months with a mostly wet autumn across parts of Scotland.
Businesses which extract water from natural sources such as lakes and rivers have been urged to put plans in place to deal with water shortages.
Nathan Critchlow-Watton, head of water and planning at Sepa, said: “Given the mixed weather we’ve experienced in autumn and winter, and the fact that some parts are already at early warning level, what happens next will shape the risk of water scarcity this summer. We can’t rule out a repeat of the water shortages businesses experienced last year.
“It’s vital that water abstractors licensed by Sepa have a plan to deal with water scarcity and we can help by providing advice and guidance on ways to reduce pressure on the water environment.
“Taking the right steps now will lower the likelihood of resources reaching a critical level again this summer and Sepa having to suspend licences to protect the water environment.”
Groundwater levels in the east of Scotland were at their lowest level last year since records began in 2009 and there was below average rainfall in eight out of 12 months, according to Sepa.
In August and September last year, Sepa imposed suspensions on 175 water abstraction licences in four catchment areas where businesses extract water from natural sources.
Environmental resources policy manager at National Farmers Union, Scotland (NFUS), Sarah Cowie, said: “Water is a vital resource for the agricultural sector, we cannot produce food without a consistent and plentiful water supply.
“Last year, SEPA suspended abstraction licences for some growers for the first time. This stark response to a prolonged period of dry weather highlights the impacts of a changing climate and the pressures it can bring on farm businesses.
“NFUS encourages all farmers and growers to think about water use on farms as early as possible, to plan for the coming summer season. This will ensure businesses can remain resilient at all times of the year.”
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