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Drier and warmer summers could leave Highlands' private water supplies high and dry

By Gavin Musgrove

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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.

Private water supplies could become much more difficult to tap for water if UK climate change forecasts are correct.
Private water supplies could become much more difficult to tap for water if UK climate change forecasts are correct.

It could become a major issue considering that private supplies provide drinking water to four per cent 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 commented: “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.

More information is available at: https://www.crew.ac.uk/publications.

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

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