There is no escaping that we are facing serious global challenges when it comes to water. Growing populations, climate-change driven extreme weather events that cause shocks to our natural and built environment, depleted groundwater, pollution from agriculture, industry and sewage… the list goes on.

Even Scotland, with its ambition to become the first Hydro Nation for its clean, abundant water resources, is not immune, with 34% of its waterbodies failing to achieve good standards.

It’s World Water Week, so I want to reflect on those challenges and how we tackle them.

The reality is that climate change remains our single greatest, long-term threat. Its impacts are being increasingly felt in Scotland. For example, this summer’s extremely dry June compounded already low groundwater level problems.

While July, being unusually wet, may have partially offset a potentially serious situation, the threat to water reserves persists with the number of extreme drought events in Scotland potentially increasing from an average of one every 20 years to one every three.

This means lack of water, particularly where there is a reliance on private water supplies and there is a clear need for more research to underpin strategic planning in this area.

We’re also witnessing an increase in severe wet weather events, like storms Frank and Arwen, meaning that households and businesses, as well as our natural environments, are hit by flooding.

There is an opportunity to address both water scarcity and flooding together, while also realising wider environmental, social and economic benefits.

The first step is to better understand the problem. To do this, scientists at The James Hutton Institute are looking at regional differences in - and vulnerability to - water scarcity across Scotland, including how rapidly it can deteriorate and recover.

We are also focusing on novel approaches to flood management, such as nature-based solutions, where more natural environments like ponds or wetlands are reinstated or created. These can provide water storage, the potential to recharge groundwater, slow river flows, reduce flooding and provide water for people and wildlife during water scarcity events.

The Scottish Government understands that effective approaches to water and catchment management doesn’t happen without leadership and coordination. That’s why, through its Hydro Nation agenda, it’s supporting centres of expertise such as the Centre of Expertise for Waters and Scotland’s Hydro Nation International Centre. These organisations, based at the James Hutton Institute, are responsible for building the necessary partnerships between natural and social scientists and engineers, together with policy makers, planners, practitioners and stakeholders to address the many complex challenges facing the water sector.

Looking forward, partnerships like these are fundamental to policy success in managing other challenges, such as the growing mix of chemicals and contaminants entering our waters, alongside reducing surface flooding in urbans areas and supporting the transition from fossil fuels to alternatives like hydrogen. Water is key in all these areas. Through partnerships, Scotland, as a Hydro Nation, is ideally positioned to address these challenges and lead transformative change in the worldwide water sector.

Dr Rachel Helliwell is Director of Scotland’s Centre of Expertise for Waters and the Hydro Nation International Centre