Water Environment

Protecting Water Quality
In general, we are lucky that water quality across the catchment is good. However, there is always room for improvement in response to a growing range of threats, and where issues at hotspots are identified.

The River Basin Management Plan sets out the direction and priorities for maintaining and improving water body status for the Spey and many of its tributaries. Led by SEPA with help from many partners, much work has gone into the significant improvements achieved, including easement of barriers to fish passage on six watercourses, and resolution of ecological pressures on a further eight tributaries.

Since 2014, five more Spey water bodies achieved ‘high’ overall status, four more achieved 'good', 'poor' fell from 24 to 17, and two remain 'bad' due to barriers to fish passage and abstraction (graph).

Robust licensing for discharges and operations in and around rivers works well to protect water quality. Potential impacts on watercourses due to development are effectively controlled through the planning system, which also offers an opportunity to encourage innovative solutions such as Sustainable Drainage Systems. Scottish Water have invested in the catchment with upgrades to a number of WWTW and sewerage systems, reducing the risk of pollution. Increased uptake of agri-environment schemes on farms and adherence to the UKFS Forestry and Water Guidelines have also helped to tackle potential sources of rural pollution. Water temperature is increasingly recognised as a critical metric. Thermal discharges from distilleries are carefully regulated and their effects better understood. There is active research and monitoring of other potential threats to water quality, including pressures from soaring visitor numbers at Loch Morlich and upland acidification.

Managing Water Quantity
With the effects of a changing climate exacerbating other pressures on our water resources, concern about water scarcity in the catchment has moved up the agenda during the last five years. A revised report by Envirocentre has provided better understanding of the likely negative effects of the large amount of water abstracted for hydro power and transferred out of the catchment altogether, depleting river and ground water levels and posing risks to river ecology and functioning. Conversations are underway between SFB, SEPA, power companies and landowners indicating widespread recognition that there is a growing need to question the status quo.

Climate Change
There is a growing imperative for climate change to be a major consideration embedded within the activities of all the CMP partners. Predictions of higher average and peak temperatures and more frequent and severe extreme weather events have been evidenced in recent years in the catchment, for example the prolonged drought conditions during 2018 and localised damaging flood flows in the summer of 2019.

SFB and SCI continue to contribute to the Scottish River Temperature Monitoring Network database.

SCI has delivered 10 projects all of which have climate change adaptation and/or resilience as key elements, eg tree planting for shade and slowing runoff rates. Local authority Flood Risk Management Plans address the effects of climate change on communities and infrastructure. The CNPA Heritage Horizons programme includes projects to alleviate flood risk to Potentially Vulnerable Areas (PVAs). A large number of landowners are switching land management priorities to peatland restoration and woodland creation, with climate change as well as biodiversity objectives.

Examples of key successes from 2017 - 2021:

WFD water body status is on an upward trend.

Nine water bodies have been upgraded to High or Good status since 2014.

There is on-going investment in water and waste water treatment facilities.

The upgraded WWTW at Boat of Garten will ensure effluent quality remains high as the village population grows.

Ensuring that there is enough water for both wildlife and people during low rainfall periods is becoming increasingly critical.

Research and trials such as these ‘leaky dams’ in a distillery catchment are helping to develop resilience.

Restoring peatland boosts its ability to store water as well as carbon.

More and more landowners are changing the management of their land to help regulate high and low flows

Once established, the new riparian woodland recently planted will provide shading to keep the water cool and will help slow runoff rates during heavy rainfall.

This is a good example on the River Calder.

SUDS schemes are becoming more widespread.

Encouraging developers to routinely consider SuDS …..