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Reservoir Safety in Scotland

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The Reservoirs (Scotland) Act 2011

The Reservoirs (Scotland) Act 2011 represents a significant change in the way reservoirs are regulated. The Act includes measures to ensure increased protection to the public from the risk of flooding from reservoirs, whilst also ensuring that reservoir owners are fairly treated through a proportionate system.

The most significant change is the move from a capacity-based regime  to a risk-based approach.

This will result in some previously unregulated but higher risk reservoirs being brought under the regime, and other large reservoirs which do not pose any risk becoming subject to a lower level of regulation.

The Act is being implemented in a phased approach with reservoirs over 25,000m3 being brought under the new regime from 1 April 2016 and smaller reservoirs between 10,000m3 and 25,000m3 being brought under at a later date.

The new legislation will provide greater security for people, property and critical infrastructure from the risk of flooding from reservoirs. The basic model of the previous safety regime (which is well understood by all involved in the process) has been retained, but with a number of improvements in areas which had been identified as areas of concern. These include -

  • New powers and duties for the enforcement authority
  • New duties on reservoir managers
  • Additional requirements added to the role of panel engineers

Panel engineers have a key role in ensuring public safety, by supervising reservoirs which pose a risk to the public during construction and their operating life, by undertaking regular inspections, completing reports for the enforcement authority and advising on measures to be taken in the interest of safety.

The enforcement authority transferred on 1 April 2016 from the 32 Local Authorities, who were previously each responsible for the enforcement of the Reservoirs Act 1975, to SEPA.

The legislation requires all reservoirs covered by the Act to be included on a register held by SEPA.  A copy of the Register can be found here.

SEPA then classifies each reservoir according to whether it poses a threat to human life, property and critical infrastructure if it was to fail. The likelihood of any failure must also be taken into account.

On these criteria, SEPA classifies reservoirs as being 'High', 'Medium' or 'Low' risk. Those sites deemed to pose a 'High' risk will have a greater level of regulation and control than one deemed to be 'Medium' or 'Low' risk.

Risk classification will be re-assessed every 6 years to tie in with the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009. This will ensure that the most up-to-date information is used in assigning risk classification.