Adapting Scotland’s Water and Waste Water Services to Climate Change

29 February 2024
Image shows scottish water logo with  Scottish Water Climate Change Adaptation Plan 2024 text

Climate Change Adaptation

We have set out our plans to tackle the impact of climate change to protect water and waste water services and our need to work in partnership to achieve this.

“Climate change adaptation is not something we can choose to do; it is something we must do. ”

Alex Plant
CEO, Scottish Water

Action and investment are needed to reduce the risk of flood and drought and protect water supplies from the impacts of climate change across Scotland. 

A new plan published by Scottish Water outlines the efforts it will take to make services and infrastructure more resilient to extreme weather. 

Over the past decade, the public utility – which provides essential water and waste water services for 5 million customers throughout Scotland – has responded to the changing climate, by assessing risks and building resilience into its operations and investment plans. 

But, with growing impacts on assets and services from more extreme weather events locally and nationally, the new plan highlights the steps that must be taken to go further and faster in adapting the assets and services which serve people 24/7 to ensure they remain reliable, resilient and sustainable. 

Scottish Water’s Climate Change Adaptation Plan focuses on key areas which are likely to face further disruption unless we act. It describes the consequences on water supplies, water quality, sewer systems, infrastructure and the environment without adaptation. 

Chief Executive Alex Plant said that significant investment is needed over the next 25 years to protect water and waste water services against the worst forecast impacts of climate change. 

He said: “Climate change adaptation is not something we can choose to do; it is something we must do. The world has already warmed by more than 1 degree over the past century. We can expect drier and warmer summers, wetter winters and an increasing number of severe storms that will affect our water and waste water services. 

“Our assets were simply not designed to cope with the more extreme weather conditions we now face on a regular basis. They are also ageing and will deteriorate more quickly with climate change. This makes our objectives to improve drinking water quality, ensure a secure water supply and improve our environmental performance even more challenging. 

“We need to invest to address these issues and build climate change adaptation into our forward plans if we are to ensure that we deliver a reliable, resilient and sustainable future service for our customers and for society. 

“Transition of this scale, of course, comes at a cost. The report shows that adapting the assets that serve Scotland to be resilient to more challenging climate futures will need new investment of £2 billion to £5 billion over the next 25 years. All of this underlines the importance of maintaining a stable funding and investment trajectory over the short and medium term.” 

Mr Plant stressed the need for collaboration, partnership and innovation to make a real difference in the long-term and to keep costs as low as possible. 

The Climate Change Adaptation Plan outlines several key issues facing Scottish Water, including:  

  • Drought  
  • Deteriorating water quality  
  • Customer flooding and environmental pollution
  • Waste water and environmental quality 

The plan outlines a range of scenarios as to how services for customers can be protected through adaptation and working with others and outlines projections for impacts on water and waste water services to 2050 and 2080. 

Without adaptation, customers could experience water shortages, deteriorating water quality, increased environmental pollution risk, biodiversity loss and damage to infrastructure such as waste water treatment plants flooding. 

The plan highlights that Scotland’s current, water supply deficit during drought could increase four-fold from 60 to 240 million litres a day with more sustained low rainfall periods anticipated. Customers could experience more water main bursts by 2050 due to much drier ground conditions and consequent ground movement. 

A range of measures can be taken to adapt, including working with customers to help them use less water, reducing leakage, replacing old pipes, improving the connectivity of water supply systems, and increasing reservoir capacity. 

Water quality is also being affected by climate change. By 2050 an estimated 200 water sources are at greater risk of seeing increased manganese – naturally occurring element which can discolour water – and algal blooms. 

Climate change will also affect the country’s sewer systems – with predictions that 4,800 properties could be at risk of sewer flooding by 2050 compared to 2500 currently, and a risk of a 20% rise in overflow discharges. A range of adaptation actions are outlined to deal with the increased risk in this area including improved monitoring, working with customers at risk of flooding and with partners to keep surface water out of sewers. 

The full plan is available here: Scottish Water Climate Change Adaptation Plan


Climate Change Adaptation Plan 2024 PDF

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