Whisky and golf, two industries that help define Scotland around the globe, have been exposed as major environmental offenders by a Government watchdog for siphoning off more water than they are allowed.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has condemned the performance of distilleries and golf courses across the country as "poor" because they have broken the rules by taking more water than permitted. Farmers and other businesses have also come under fire.
Sepa has further criticised more than 200 operators for failing to say how much water they used. They include more farmers, golf courses and distilleries as well as Edinburgh Zoo, Scone Palace in Perth and the US property tycoon Donald Trump.
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Sepa regulates the removal of water from streams, rivers, lochs and the ground to prevent watercourses from drying up, protect wildlife, limit pollution and ensure the natural resource is fairly shared. It warns it will take legal enforcement action against businesses that persistently fail to comply.
When Sepa published its 2013 assessments of the environmental performances of Scottish firms last November, it kept the names and ratings of 961 water operations secret "for reasons of national security". But it has now released a list of the assessments to the Sunday Herald in response to a request under freedom of information law.
It reveals that 39 sites were rated as poor, including 22 farms, eight whisky plants, three golf courses and famed Fochabers soup company, Baxters. They were all guilty of breaching their licences by using more water than permitted in 2013.
Five of the eight whisky plants are owned by the British drinks giant Diageo, including three distilleries on Speyside, one in Alness and a barley malting plant on Islay. Two are Chivas Brothers distilleries in Speyside, owned by the French company Pernod Ricard.
The three golf courses that breached their water licences in 2013 were Carnoustie Golf Links in Angus, Moray Golf Club in Lossiemouth and Roxburghe Golf Course in the Borders. The performance of a further 12 courses - including Trump's at Menie in Aberdeenshire and some in St Andrews - were said by Sepa to be unsatisfactory because they failed to provide information on their water usage.
Sepa assessed a total of 215 operations as "at risk" because they failed to return data in 2013. Among them were Edinburgh Zoo and Scone Palace.
The offenders were lambasted by Friends Of The Earth Scotland. "It is very disappointing to see household names among those that can't be bothered to report and those that haven't got a grip of this problem," said the environmental group's director, Dr Richard Dixon.
"There is no excuse at all for the iconic whisky and golf industries not to be living up to the high environmental standards that they trade on worldwide. Scotland risks trouble with European laws if we do not get this right."
Dixon pointed out that demand for water had to be carefully managed to make sure there is enough for wildlife. "Companies taking too much water are putting fish, water birds, plants and insects at risk, as well as frustrating other legitimate water users," he said.
He was backed up by Dr Sarah Hendry, a law lecturer from Dundee University's Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science. "Water abstraction is managed to protect river flows and loch levels, which in turn protects aquatic flora and fauna, and the ecosystem services freshwater resources provide," she said.
"Businesses are expected to comply with all their environmental regulations, including reporting requirements, and failing to do so would give them an unfair advantage over competitors, as well as depriving both regulators and the public of information that should be in the public domain."
Sepa's area manager Colin Anderson pointed out that most of the 27% of operators classed as non-compliant in 2013 had failed to submit data.
The Scotch Whisky Association, which represents the industry, insisted it was committed to protecting the environment. "We are obviously disappointed if, on occasions, the highest possible standards aren't achieved," said a spokeswoman.
"The industry works closely with Sepa and other relevant organisations to ensure it goes above and beyond compliance requirements. Where there is room for further improvement, we will work to raise standards even higher."
According to Diageo, the problems at its plants had not caused environmental harm. "Water is the lifeblood of our business and we take the responsible stewardship of water extremely seriously," said the company's distilling manager Keith Miller.
Chivas Brothers also insisted it takes its environmental responsibilities seriously. "It worked closely with Sepa at the time to rectify this issue and bring its water usage into compliance," said a company spokesman.
The Scottish Golf Union said it had made member clubs aware of the requirements to register water abstractions. "We encourage all clubs to ensure they comply with permitted levels and regularly submit their data as requested," said a union spokesman. "We are confident that the golf sector as a whole is not having an adverse effect on Scottish ground waters."
John Thomson, captain of Moray Golf Club, stressed that the club had never exceeded its annual limit but accepted that too much water had been taken in March 2013. "In our defence we didn't actually use the water, we just stored it," he said. "We have put in place the measures whereby any future breach simply won't happen."
The Golf Environment Organisation, which encourages courses to act sustainably, said Carnoustie Golf Links had "cleared up [its] issue" with Sepa.
The National Farmers' Union in Scotland said most of Scotland's watercourses had not been impacted by taking water for irrigation, but that in the small number of cases where that had occurred it was encouraging members to "work collaboratively with Sepa to share the resource in a manner that best protects the environment while still allowing production of food".
Baxters is reviewing its performance to ensure compliance, a company spokeswoman said.
Edinburgh Zoo blamed a faulty automatic metre reader for its breaches in 2013 and insisted its overall performance had been excellent. Scone Palace, which has won a green tourism award, declined to comment, while The Trump Organisation did not respond to a request for comment.