Aberdeenshire Council seeks assurances from Scottish Government on rural water scarcity

Aberdeenshire Council is seeking assurances from the Scottish Government on the issue of water scarcity, which seriously affected the area last year.

The region has the highest proportion of private water supplies in the country, a large number of which were adversely affected by a prolonged period of dry weather.

Now the council is appealing to the Scottish Government, the Drinking Water Quality Regulator and Scottish Water to work with it to reduce the impact of dry weather on water supplies in future years.

Aberdeenshire has around 7,500 private water supplies serving more than 11,000 properties, around 13% of the resident population – far more than any other local authority area.

While more than 6,000 of those are at single properties, others serve groups of properties and business premises, including holiday lets, hotels and food businesses.

Last year the council directly assisted around 350 properties whose supplies ran dry, delivering and topping up water bowsers and supplying bottled water to affected residents.

Farms and other agriculture businesses were also affected, with groundwater levels reaching record lows and remaining below those normally expected at this time of year.

The Council’s Infrastructure Services Committee (ISC) agreed today (Thu, March 14) to write to Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham.

Councillors want to emphasise that this is not expected to be a one-off problem – climate change forecasts suggests Aberdeenshire will continue to experience drier weather, more frequently.

Weather forecast predictions for the next three months for the UK are normal to below normal rainfall. If there is no significant rainfall in coming months Aberdeenshire will likely face similar issues again.

ISC chair, Peter Argyle, will write to the Minister seeking assurances, including that the matter be given due consideration and that steps will be taken to address the Council’s concerns.

These include the need to improve advice and guidance to the public about water usage, maintenance of their supplies and improving the infrastructure.

The committee also wants to raise the prospect of the mains network being extended into rural areas, as well as making it easier for property owners to access the public supply.

Cllr Argyle said: “We wish our rural communities to be sustainable, both from a residential and commercial perspective, and having a wholesome and adequate water supply is a basic requirement.

“The rural nature of our area means that many properties are currently unable to access the public water supply, which is a more reliable source – we believe the mains network should be extended to enable more connections to be made and we would be happy to work with Scottish Water and local communities on this.

“We also hope the customer experience for those wishing to connect to the mains can be improved, as it is currently protracted and complicated, and that as many new property developments as possible can be connected to the public supply where it is feasible, with this requirement set out in national planning guidance.”

Vice chair John Cox said: “Water scarcity became a very real issue for many families and businesses in Aberdeenshire this past summer and it might be something which is overlooked by those on mains water supplies as something which requires urgent attention.

“While we are ready and willing to do what we can for those struggling with dwindling private supplies, predictions are that climate change will lead to increasing problems in this area and members of the committee want to see action at a national level to start to address the potential for issues in future.”

Given the impact of the exceptionally dry weather throughout Scotland, the Scottish Government established an emergency assistance scheme in early July 2018.

It helped domestic properties only, with businesses and farmers having to make their own arrangements.

The scheme allowed local authorities to provide intermediate bulk containers (IBC) and bottled water to those in need. Expenditure incurred will be claimed back from the Scottish Government – in Aberdeenshire that figure is around £100,000.

* Aberdeenshire’s private water supplies (7,800) form 35% of the Scottish total. Some shared supplies can serve up to 50 properties.

The maintenance of private water supplies is the responsibility of the property owner/landowner/land manager. Private water supplies are vulnerable to fluctuations in quality and quantity and are often not adequately maintained. Infrastructure, including storage capacity is often old and inadequate.

Each year there are a few supplies that run dry, but 2018 proved to be unprecedented in terms of the extent of problems.