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Climate change may put Scottish private water supplies at risk of running dry

The latest UK climate projections show a trend towards drier and warmer summers
"This important research provides more evidence that climate change is having a growing impact on our natural environment and resources – and on our everyday lives"

The latest UK climate projections show a trend towards drier and warmer summers, with the west of Scotland set to become wetter and the east drier, plus more frequent instances of heavy rainfall. New research by the James Hutton Institute shows that these changing weather patterns are likely to make private water supplies across Scotland more vulnerable to droughts, a major issue considering that private supplies provide drinking water to 4% of Scotland’s population, and to many more through businesses and tourist facilities.

Summer 2018 was unusually dry and warm and many private water supplies ran dry leaving people needing assistance from their local authority. Scotland’s Centre of Expertise for Waters (CREW) responded on behalf of the Scottish Government by commissioning a report into how climate change is likely to impact the resilience of private water supplies in the future, focusing on water scarcity. If, as projected, drier and warmer summers are more frequent, private water supplies will be increasingly vulnerable to water shortages. North East Scotland is forecast to experience the largest increase in water shortages, and it is also where there is the highest density of private water supplies. 

Dr Mike Rivington, project lead and co-author of the report, said: “About half of Scotland’s private water supplies are estimated to be within areas of increased vulnerability between now and 2050. Future levels of vulnerability are due to reduced water quantity availability combining with specific catchment scale water use, such as for agriculture. Across Scotland this will vary in space and time due to changes in precipitation and temperature that affects the overall water balance.”

Co-author Dr Ioanna Akoumianaki highlights the need for a better understanding of water storage at landscape scales and the potential impacts of dry weather on springs, rivers, lochs and the water table to help assess the risk of private water supplies drying up. She added: “Awareness of that risk and collaboration between users, local authorities and experts will be key to addressing the challenges and achieving rural supplies that are resilient to changes in the climate.”

Environment and Climate Change Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, said: “This important research provides more evidence that climate change is having a growing impact on our natural environment and resources – and on our everyday lives.

“The prolonged dry weather in 2018, and again this spring, shows that Scotland is not immune to water scarcity. Events like this will only become more frequent, which is why it is essential that we continue to build on our understanding of climate change effects with research like this. This will help develop our critical adaptation work and support of communities across the country.”

But it’s not just changes in our climate that present potential problems. CREW recently published a study led by Glasgow Caledonian University showing that private water supplies play a vital role in rural economies in Scotland, with many micro- and small businesses relying on them. Reliance on private supplies makes communities in remote areas of rural Scotland potentially less resilient, economically and otherwise.

The report argues that it costs more – directly and indirectly - to access and maintain private supplies and issues with water quality can be detrimental to businesses, further affecting the fragile, interdependent nature of small rural communities.

Whilst tourism is widely regarded as a welcome economic opportunity in rural areas, the sudden rise in water demand, such as along the heavily promoted North Coast 500 tourist route, was recognised as an issue requiring urgent attention. Better regulatory oversight and support and enhanced communication between relevant agencies both locally and nationally is essential so rural businesses and communities can continue to grow.

Prof Bob Ferrier, Director of CREW commented: “Scotland’s climate is changing, and it is important to understand the impacts of that change on our society. Reliance on private water supplies puts users increasingly at risk of both the impacts of climate change and the low resilience to economic impacts.”

Both reports are available for consultation from the CREW website.

Funded by the Scottish Government, CREW is a partnership between the James Hutton Institute and Scottish higher education and research institutes. For details see

Press and media enquiries: 

Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo, Media Manager, James Hutton Institute, Tel: +44 (0)1224 395089 (direct line), +44 (0)344 928 5428 (switchboard) or +44 (0)7791 193918 (mobile).

Printed from /news/climate-change-may-put-scottish-private-water-supplies-risk-running-dry on 18/04/24 01:38:06 AM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.