Climate change: Water is becoming an increasingly precious resource – Stephen Jardine
Despite being a country famed for its rivers and rainfall, according to Sepa, many areas of Scotland are now suffering from water scarcity.
The rain this week provided some much-needed relief but doesn’t make up for the impact of a prolonged spell of warm, dry weather over the summer. On top of that, the east of Scotland experienced its driest January in 80 years and only four of the last 12 months have recorded above average rainfall.
The greatest impact is being felt in countries that were usually hot and are now burning, but our traditionally temperate conditions are not enough to protect us from the impact of climate change.
Last week I travelled on the train down to London through a landscape turned brown and yellow by the recent heat and lack of rain. Occasional thunder and lightning storms came with a downpour but most of the water seemed to running off into ditches because the soil was too dry to absorb it.
A drought was declared in eight areas across England last weekend, allowing widespread bans on hosepipe use. Here in Scotland, Sepa focussed on restrictions on farmers abstracting water from local rivers but there warnings that we also face tough times ahead.
Professor Lindsay Beevers, of Edinburgh University, said Scots should prepare for major restrictions in the years to come. “Moving forward, we will need to think about water as a precious commodity,” she said.
That seems counter-intuitive in a nation where a soaking is far more likely than sunburn but our climate is changing and our complacency about water needs to end.
South of the Border, we are already seeing the consequences. At a meeting last week, the UK’s National Drought Agency heard dire warnings about England’s food security.
It’s predicted half of the potato crop could fail due to a lack of irrigation and production of carrots, onions and sugar beet is also under threat. Milk production is down nationally due to a lack of feed for cows and wildfires have destroyed farmland across southern England.
For us in Scotland, future shortages could hamper water-intensive industries like farming and whisky and beer production and damage fish stocks in rivers where the level runs low.
To tackle this will require a major change in how we think about water and understand it is no longer the endless resource it once was.
That means maximising storage when supplies are good and fixing the leaks that waste water. In recent years, Scottish Water has made significant progress on that, yet an incredible 463 million litres of water is still lost in leaks every day. That is the equivalent of 185 Olympic-sized swimming pools and, in a country with a National Drought Agency, that is not acceptable.
For individuals, the future will mean shorter showers and not leaving the tap running when you brush your teeth but water metering for households, as in other parts of Europe, may be the only way to get us to think of water as the precious resource it now is.
We have seen a lot of taps-aff this summer but leaving the taps on is no longer an option.
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