Water scarcity

Although generally considered a wet country, Scotland can be vulnerable to periods of dry weather. In some areas this can result in pressure on water users and the environment. Climate change is likely to increase uncertainty and may cause issues in areas that have not previously experienced water scarcity.

2018/2019 overview

Much of Scotland received less than average rainfall over the winter months on the back of a dry 2018, particularly in the north east. The dry and warm weather over the summer meant many farmers had to irrigate more than normal, and the drier than average winter months did not replenish lochs and groundwater, as we’d usually expect to see. As a result Scotland began the summer with lower reserves of water than at the same time last year.

Following a wet summer there are currently no concerns regarding water scarcity. Storage in lochs and groundwater has recovered to normal or above levels for the time of year.

SEPA is monitoring the situation closely and will continue to issue updated reports throughout the winter months.

Groundwater storage is normal to high for this time of year when compared to the long-term average values.

  • In the North East levels responded to rainfall throughout the summer with a notable rise in the first half of August. Levels have remained fairly steady since then and at monitoring sites along the Moray coast the level is now reasonably high compared to the long-term values.
  • There is a similar story at monitoring sites along the East coast.
  • In the South West levels were healthier going into summer but had steadily fallen across the region. A similar response to the rainfall in early August has been seen so all monitoring sites show above normal levels, with some siting at fairly high levels.

All water users have a role to play to ensure that resources are used sustainably and the potential impact on the environment is reduced.

Current situation

The report above will always be the most recent. Previous reports are also available to view.

The following link will take you to SEPA’s Drought Risk Assessment Tool, which shows catchments where rivers are currently at very low flow.


Updated advice is available for abstractors and other water users.

Remember that all abstractors must record abstraction volumes, including nil return. The Data Returns Form is available on our website.

Help us assess water scarcity stress

SEPA is currently assessing the impacts of the prolonged period of dryer than average weather on our environment. If dry weather continues the areas affected will grow.

You can help us

We want to have the best possible understanding of the impacts of dry weather.  Your reports of dry private water supplies, and rivers and burns in your area experiencing conditions that may cause stress to aquatic wildlife will help us.

Tell us about

  • Dry private water supplies (e.g. wells and springs).
  • Rivers with isolated pools separated by stretches that are dry or have only a trickle of water.
  • Distressed or dead fish or invertebrates.
  • Large numbers of dead plants on parts of the river bed that are rarely exposed.
  • A lot of exposed algae over 100s of metres, combined with very low flows.

Send us

  • A photograph if possible - preferably with a reference point or scale.
  • Name of the river or burn.
  • Location – a grid reference is helpful but anything to point to a location is helpful.
  • Description of the signs of water scarcity stress.

Email to LowFlowImpacts@sepa.org.uk

Public Water Supply

Any questions about the public water supply should be referred to Scottish Water. Advice on water efficiency is available on their website.

National Water Scarcity Plan

The National Water Scarcity Plan explains how water resources will be managed prior to and during periods of prolonged dry weather. This is to ensure the correct balance is struck between protecting the environment and providing resource for human and economic activity. It sets out:

  • the high level principles;
  • what steps we and others are currently taking in preparation for periods of water scarcity;
  • what assessment methods we will use to determine the most appropriate response to water scarcity;
  • what action we will take during a period of water scarcity;
  • what action we expect others to take.

The plan will be reviewed and updated as more experience is gained and tools are developed.