BUSINESSES have been asked to reduce their water use while parts of Fife are expected to reach 'significant scarcity' in the next week.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) warned that the continued dry spell may force them to impose restrictions, which could affect food production.

Following the driest January in the east of the country since 1940, their latest water scarcity report said that groundwater and river levels have been severely impacted by a lack of rainfall.

It means that businesses that abstract water – from sources such as rivers, streams, canals, springs, underground or the sea – could be told to stop.

Head of water and planning at SEPA, Nathan Critchlow-Watton, said: “Water resources are critical in the east, with groundwater levels the lowest they have been since records began in 2009 and conditions not expected to improve in the short term.

"Even in parts where there has been some rainfall and an immediate increase in river flows, the areas still remain vulnerable due to longer term rainfall deficits and very dry ground conditions.

“That is why it is important for businesses that abstract water to take action and reduce their current usage, minimising the effects on the environment.

"SEPA is here to offer support and guidance, and each week we set out the key measures abstractors should be taking to conserve water."

The environment watchdog is responsible for managing Scotland’s natural water resources and issues licenses to businesses abstracting large amounts for agriculture and other industrial uses.

The water scarcity report, published yesterday (Thursday), said areas in mid and north Fife are likely to reach 'significant scarcity' in the next week, meaning SEPA has the power to suspend abstraction licences.

Areas around the Firth of Forth remain at 'moderate scarcity'.

Businesses affected are already being contacted to discuss what this will mean for them and to offer support.

There is also reassurance that, if suspension is required, it would only be for the minimum length of time.

Mr Critchlow-Watton added: "Climate change means water scarcity will become even more frequent.

"We want to work with businesses to plan their water usage long-term, so that we can preserve this vital resource as effectively as possible.

"Not only will that protect Scotland’s rivers and lochs, but it will minimise business risks as well.”

Water is a resource that underpins key sectors across Scotland including hydropower, golf, whisky production and farming.

NFU Scotland’s Sarah Cowie said: “Water is a vital resource for the agriculture sector as we cannot produce food without a consistent and plentiful water supply.

"With significant areas of Scotland experiencing a prolonged dry spell, it’s important farmers take steps to ensure the continued supply of water and avoid disruption."