The River Spey is one of the most heavily abstracted major rivers in Scotland – threatening the survival of many species including the iconic wild Atlantic Salmon.
An independent Envirocentre report, commissioned by the Spey Fishery Board and released in August 2021, presents clear evidence that the Spey catchment is under increasing pressure from over-abstraction and the growing impact of climate change.
For the sake of the hundreds of species, industries and communities who rely on the river, something needs to change.
We are calling on the Scottish Government and SEPA to urgently re-assess the amount of water currently being diverted away from the river and to increase the amount of water being released back into the Spey and its tributaries. We are calling on them to #ReleasetheSpey.
Please continue reading to find out more about this critical issue.
Water over-abstraction on the Spey
There are 51 man-made structures that abstract water from the River Spey and its tributaries. These structures, which are licensed by SEPA, alter the watercourse, dam the river and in some cases transfer water out of the Spey catchment – removing it as an essential resource to the river.
The report shows that just two dams account for 91% of all the water abstracted from the Spey:
- 66% – GFG’s Spey Dam
- 25% – Scottish & Southern Energy’s Tummel Valley Scheme
Both of these dams transfer water OUT of the Spey catchment – diverting it either to Fort William or to the Tay to generate hydroelectricity. In place since the 1940s, these schemes can reduce the natural flow in the Spey by up to 24% at Boat o’ Brig near Fochabers, and by up to a massive 61% at Kingussie.
The growing threat of climate change
We are already witnessing the negative impacts of climate change on the River Spey and the situation is only going to get worse.
Regional climate change projections show that there will be an increase in wetter winters and drier summers as well as a higher frequency of extreme events leading to floods and droughts. There is also projected to be up to 40% less winter snowfall by 2080, which will reduce meltwater flow through the spring.
The reality is that due to climate change there will increasingly be less water resources in the Spey during the spring and summer months. How can we continue taking valuable water out of the Spey when water levels are already under growing pressure from climate change?
The impact of water over-abstraction
If the current levels of water abstraction continue, we are very concerned about the future of the ecology of the River Spey catchment and the rich biodiversity that it supports. This includes the Atlantic salmon population – a species already considered to be in crisis.
If current levels of water abstraction continue the following are inevitable:
- A reduction of the wetted area within the Spey catchment, meaning less available habitat to support wildlife.
- A lower resilience of the river to pollution events due to less water leads to higher concentrations of pollutants.
- The river will be more susceptible to temperature fluctuations. Higher temperatures can be fatal to salmon and many other river species.
- There could be an increase in the proportion of fish being eaten by predators due to a reduction in suitable spawning
- Lower water levels in the spring make it harder for salmon and trout to migrate up to their spawning grounds.
- Dams can also reduce the transfer of sediment and gravel – a vital process for the creation of habitat suitable for spawning.
Water abstraction doesn’t just impact wildlife, it directly affects the people who live in and visit Speyside too.
Many communities, including Fochabers and Elgin, rely on the River Spey and groundwater in the catchment for their water supplies. Of the 51 distilleries in Speyside, most rely on the Spey and its tributaries for water used during the distilling process – an industry that brings millions of pounds and thousands of visitors to Speyside each year. If the salmon population reduces, this will have an impact on the fishing industry, which also supports hundreds of jobs and brings over £12 million per year into the Speyside economy.
Lower water levels caused by continued over-abstraction will directly impact drinking water supplies and the regional economy.
What is the solution?
Opportunities exist to improve the amount of water being released back into the Spey.
As part of our #ReleasetheSpey campaign we are calling for the following actions to be taken:
- Re-watering the River Mashie, to help mitigate the impact of Spey Dam.
- Re-watering the Allt Bhran, to help mitigate the impact of the Tromie Dam.
- Increasing water flow down the River Cuaich, near Dalwhinnie, to help mitigate SSE’s diversion of water from the River Truim.
- Putting water down the Allt an t’Sluie at Dalwhinnie, which would almost completely off-set Scottish Water’s abstraction at the Dipple Wellfield near Fochabers.
All of these solutions would benefit the whole of the River and help increase the Spey’s resilience to climate change.
What are we doing?
Our EnviroCentre report was published on the 31st of August 2021. Since then, we have met with Finance Cabinet Secretary Kate Forbes and Richard Lochhead MSP, asking them to support a reappraisal of water resource management in the Spey. We hope this will lead to more water down our rivers, rather than diverting so much of it to generate hydroelectricity.
We continue to work hard to raise awareness of this issue both with key politicians, SEPA and the general public. We will post any major updates here in due course. Want to get involved and help save the Spey?
Join the conversation on social media by searching for #ReleasetheSpey.
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