BUSINESSES have been urged to efficiently manage their water use as officials issued Scotland's first water scarcity alert of the year.

The Firth of Tay area, covering north Fife and Dundee, has seen the risk of water scarcity increase to alert from early warning stage.

Businesses abstracting water in affected areas have been asked to be more water efficient to protect environment and business operations.

Scottish Environment Protection Agency's analysis shows that the deterioration is due to a combination of dry ground conditions and low river flows.

It said very little rainfall is forecast for Scotland over this coming weekend. Although some rain is forecast across south of Scotland next Monday, the situation is most likely to worsen.

It comes just a day after an emergency scheme to combat drought was introduced in Scotland.

Emergency bottled water will be provided to households in the event of water shortages, the Scottish Government confirmed.

A pilot project, with the assistance of Scottish Water, Aberdeenshire Council and Consumer Scotland, is being launched to assess whether the public water networks can be extended to accommodate households reliant on private supplies.

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The Scottish Government will be investing £20 million during the parliamentary term to support the programme.

The Sepa water situation report shows dry conditions impacting river flows and soil moisture.

Most of the south and east of Scotland remains at early warning. SEPA said it is monitoring the area closely, coordinating steps to manage water resources in line with Scotland’s National Water Scarcity Plan.

Head of water and planning at SEPA, Nathan Critchlow-Watton, said: “It is vital that water abstractors in north Fife and Dundee, who are licensed by SEPA, have a plan to deal with water scarcity. We would encourage businesses to abstract at different times, reduce the volume/rate where possible and consider alternative sources of water.

“Climate change is already having an impact with a decrease in rainfall expected over the summer, and we have to be ready for more pressure on Scotland’s water resources, perhaps in places that have not had to deal with water scarcity before."

Sepa had already advised water users, including those with private water supplies, to be aware of the potential risk of scarcity this summer, and for businesses to "plan ahead" where possible.

“SEPA aims to work with businesses to do the right thing and protect Scotland’s water environment. We can provide advice and guidance on ways to reduce pressure on rivers at risk of drought. Taking action now will reduce the likelihood of SEPA resorting to regulatory action," added Mr Critchlow-Watton.

Sepa said that while Scotland is generally considered a wet country, it is continuing to see the effects of long periods of dry weather.

Most of the south and east of Scotland are remaining at an early warning stage while  there remains an east-west split in the risk of water scarcity across the country.

A recent Scottish study showed that the nation was at increasing risk of drought and warned measures must be put in place now to ensure water supplies are kept at safe levels.

The project, which investigated how people are affected by droughts in Scotland, was led by Kerri McClymont, a PhD student in Heriot-Watt’s School of Energy, Geoscience, They say public and private supplies of drinking water could be under threat due to drier summers and depleted reservoir levels.

They recommended that Scotland creates an improved early warning system for droughts and uses tourism campaigns to ask visitors to use water wisely.

They also said the perception of Scotland as a wet country may encourage people to waste water.

Scotland experienced water scarcity in 2018, 2020 and 2021, with the latter being the second driest summer in Scotland for 160 years.

At the time, SEPA said above average rainfall was required to see long-term recovery because a “significant rainfall deficit” had built up over the summer.