Think efficiency this World Water Week

Scotland is well known for having a wet climate, but instances of water scarcity will increase across Scotland as climate change intensifies writes NFU Scotland’s Environmental Resources Policy Manager Sarah Cowie at the start of World Water Week.

We have seen the scientific evidence of this in the sobering report published by the IPCC this month, which states continued global warming could further intensify the severity of wet and dry events.

Closer to home, we have felt the impacts of the prolonged hot and dry weather earlier this summer. As a result, it is vital farmers and land managers ensure they are using water efficiently and wisely.

To mark World Water Week, which runs from 23 - 27 August, we have put together some tips NFU Scotland members can follow which could help save farm businesses money and increase resilience to the impacts of prolonged dry conditions.

  • Understand how much water your business uses on a daily or weekly basis to understand your demands. This will help you decide the best ways to save water and money. If you abstract water, it will also help you comply with the conditions of your authorisation.
  • Make sure taps are switched off when not in use and water troughs are not overflowing. Using a pressure washer, where practical, instead of a volume washer can also help. 
  • Educate and involve staff on implementing water-efficiency measures. Ensure staff know they should report faults or leakages straight away. Regular walk-round surveys of the business can identify minimisation opportunities.
  • Fix drips and leaks as quickly as possible. A leak or dripping tap that loses 1ml per second will increase water use by 31 cubic metres, or nearly 7,000 gallons in a year. Protect against cold weather-related leaks by insulating pipes and checking them regularly.
  • Investigate alternative water sources, e.g., harvesting rainwater through a roof catchment or reusing wastewater. Once captured, you can use the water where non-drinking water is required. 
  • If using a meter, check the meter size is appropriate to the amount of water you use. Like other utilities, it is possible to shop around for the best price. The Scotland on Tap website can help you find a supplier best suited to your needs.
  • Using a borehole can reduce water use costs, but the initial capital cost can be high. Permission from SEPA is required to construct a borehole. One of several licences is also required depending on the volume of water to be abstracted. The details of requirements for different levels of abstraction are available on the SEPA website here.
  • Irrigation is a high consumer of clean water in dry seasons. Only irrigate when, and only as much, as absolutely necessary. Optimise use of irrigation water by monitoring weather forecasts, soil moisture deficits and crop growth stage using irrigation scheduling techniques. Consider whether you could switch to using groundwater rather than river water if conditions worsen. 
  • When irrigating your land, check equipment isn’t leaking, don’t over spray, and use trickle irrigation where appropriate. You could also stagger abstractions with other operators, reduce the volume used, and irrigate at night where possible. It’s important to always follow conditions in your abstraction permit.
  • Invest in new water efficient equipment. This may mean a larger initial investment, but it will pay off in the long term by reducing your bills. 
  • Keep up to date with SEPA’s water scarcity situation report, which is published weekly during the summer season. The report is available here
  • Further information is available from Farm Advisory Service, SEPA, NetRegs, and Farming & Water Scotland.  

Author: Sarah Cowie

Date Published:

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About The Author

Sarah Cowie

Sarah graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a masters degree in International Relations. She started her career at Scottish Enterprise, where she held roles in renewable energy and IP development. Following this she joined political monitoring firm Newsdirect, where she was responsible for clients in the environmental and agricultural sector. She joined NFU Scotland in 2021 as environmental resources policy manager and was promoted to Senior Policy Manager in 2024. Sarah leads the climate land and business policy team and has responsibility for technical policy on climate change, land use, biodiversity and environmental issues.

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