Scottish Water has stated that 2021 brought one of the “most challenging and extraordinary periods” it has ever faced in terms of extreme weather, warning that climate change will make such conditions more frequent.
The company said the record-breaking warm and dry weather in parts of the country last summer, along with severe storms, placed its assets and employees under huge pressure.
CEO Douglas Millican said: “With my 25 years of experience in the water sector, I can honestly say the last few months have been truly extraordinary. While COVID-19 dominated our lives last year, and we’re clearly still living with the impact of the pandemic, the dominant issue of the last six months for us has been the weather.”
“It was a period of record-breaking extremes that severely tested our assets, networks and teams across the country and has had an inevitable impact on our customers and the environment.”
Some of that impact was felt locally as the Scottish Environment Protection Agency rated Wick at “significant” water scarcity – the highest of five categories – for seven weeks in a row up until early September, following the town’s driest summer for 66 years.
Low water levels led to the makers of Whiskey Old Pulteney putting a temporary halt to production in August last year, understood to have been the first time this had happened since the summer of 1976.
It was more than a month before whisky-making could resume.
Millican’s comments came as Scottish Water published its interim Performance and Prospects report covering the six-month period from April to September 2021.
The report revealed slightly higher leakage levels resulting from the impact of freezing conditions early in 2021 and the record dry summer, and how intense storms in the summer caused localised flooding and pollution events.
It also highlighted how extended dry and record-breaking warm weather led to significant increases in water consumption, low water resource levels and problems in some areas with drinking water quality.
“We need to invest more – and more quickly – to replace our ageing infrastructure and make our assets more resilient to our changing climate,” Millican said.
“We are already developing plans to address these impacts for both water and wastewater services so we can continue to deliver high service levels to our customers. This has led to an increased need for investment, with managing flood risk to our customers one of the most substantial of these.”