SEPA Warns of Water Scarcity

Scotland’s Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is warning of a water scarcity issue.

June has been a very dry month and water levels are low.

Groundwater levels are falling but so far remain within the normal range for the time of year.

The longer-term forecast suggests that there is an increased likelihood of hot, dry weather compared to normal, with a greater chance of impacts from hot weather.

Water is a resource that underpins key industries across Scotland, from food and drink production through to farming and golf course management, and while some businesses abstract seasonally, others need access to water all year round.

Those reliant on private water supplies are also feeling the effects of water scarcity. Of 22,000 private water supplies, almost 4,000 provide water to large numbers of domestic properties or businesses, including tourist accommodation, schools and care homes.

Businesses have been asked to act in order to mitigate the impacts of depleted resources in the area.

These actions are:

  • Those in the agriculture sector still abstracting should stagger abstractions with other operators
  • Where possible reduce the volume of water being abstracted
  • Switch to other supplies or suspend abstractions if possible

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

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.

Terry A’Hearn, Chief Executive at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, said:

“The severity of the water scarcity picture in part of Scotland is further evidence that water scarcity will become more and more prevalent – 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.”

Northwest Scotland, Clyde, Ayrshire, Orkney and the Western Isles are moving to Alert level. Most of the rest of the country is moving to the Early Warning tier, with Irvine and Ayr raised to Moderate Scarcity level.

There are 5 categories:

Normal Conditions

  • Abstract as normal

Early warning

  • Start to consider how you can optimise water use efficiency.


  • If you are irrigating your land, check equipment, don’t over spray, use trickle irrigation and irrigate at night to avoid evaporation.

Moderate scarcity:

  • In prolonged dry periods, reduce abstractions by staggering with other operators, reduce the volume and switch to other supplies or suspend your abstractions.

Significant scarcity:

  • This means Scotland’s water resources are becoming scarce – switch supplies or temporarily stop abstracting.

More information on water scarcity can be found at water-scarcity. Businesses having difficulty obtaining water supply or that are concerned about meeting licence conditions should contact SEPA at Those concerned about private water supply levels should contact their local authority.

Boardhouse Loch in 2018 when water levels were low

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