Hydro Nation: annual report 2020

Records the development of Scotland's Hydro Nation policy agenda and reports on progress since the publication of the sixth annual report in 2019.

Knowledge Sharing and Capacity Building Activity

Wastewater systems and SARS-CoV-2

2020 will be remembered for one thing – the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the rapid spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which had only emerged in late 2019 in Wuhan, China. While this is a novel coronavirus, for which the important transmission dynamics were little understood, it is not the first coronavirus to emerge in recent times and therefore in the early days of the outbreak, approaches to these viruses (SARS, MERS) formed the basis for the initial advice and response.

A team at Heriot-Watt University, led by Hydro Nation Forum member Dr Michael Gormley, had entered this arena in 2003, with the forensic analysis of a significant cluster of cases (320) and deaths (42) in one building complex in Hong Kong. The analysis led to the conclusion that wastewater systems within buildings were a contributing factor to the spread of the virus in that building. Since then, the team have established the mechanisms for pathogen aerosolization and transmission through building wastewater systems and the potential for these to enter the interior of the building under defect conditions. A succinct summary of the work, its global significance and advice was published in March in the prestigious Lancet Global Health. The work has led to the appointment of Dr Gormley to the Environmental Modelling Working Group (EMG) of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) – advising the UK Government on transmission and modelling of SARS-CoV-2 spread.

The linkage between wastewater systems, modelling efforts and public health is of national and international importance and has led to three international patents since the early 2000s. This work will have profound implications for the design of wastewater systems within buildings in the post COVID world and places Scotland at the heart of the effort in this area. Further work has been undertaken by scientists at the Roslin Institute, Scottish Water and SEPA to develop robust methodologies for detecting and measuring SARS-CoV-2 genetic material in wastewater.

Hydro Nation Scholars

The Hydro Nation Scholars Programme supports PhD student research on cutting-edge water challenges and aims to develop the water leaders of the future. These studies help to create new expertise within Scotland and build its international profile and global alumni.

Hydro Nation Scholars Programme PhD projects are highly relevant to the objective of the Hydro Nation Policy to develop the economic, environmental, and social value of Scotland’s water resources. The PhD projects span industrial application, socio-economics and value, governance, climate change, resilience, rural economies and environmental, physical, ecological and hydrological mechanisms and impacts and innovation across the water sector (see Annex C).

In the reporting year 2019-2020, 23 Hydro Nation scholarships were in progress at eleven Scottish Universities by scholars of fifteen different nationalities, of which four scholars successfully completed and joined the growing Hydro Nation alumni (10 in total).

The most recent alumni include; Dr Fortune Gomo “Supporting better decisions across the nexus of the water-energy-food challenge” (University of Dundee & James Hutton Institute), Dr Aaron Neill “Linking small-scale hydrological flow paths, connectivity and microbial transport to protect remote private water supplies” (University of Aberdeen), Dr Maricela Blair “Micro- and nano-plastics in wastewater treatment systems and receiving waters” (University of Glasgow), and Dr Robert Sakic Trogrlic “Community-based non-structural flood risk management for Malawi” (Heriot-Watt University).

There continues to be a close ongoing relationship between the Hydro Nation Scholars (and their academic supervisors) and external communities, including the wider water industry in Scotland and the key governmental institutions who have responsibility for aspects of water policy, regulation and governance. This involved scholar participation in Hydro Nation events, Hydro Nation Scholar Programme events and training sessions, UK and international conferences, industry events, field research trips and research collaborations.

The aquaNOW Audiences

Hydro Nation supports and collaborates in “aquaNOW Audiences”, a series of “Question Time” format panel live-streamed webinars consisting of Scottish water expertise (always including a Hydro Nation Scholar), and senior international participants in the world of water practice and thinking. International panellists have included individuals from the Stockholm International Water Institute; the Global Centre on Adaptation; the National University of Singapore; the Alliance for Water Stewardship; WWF; the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation.

Aims of “aquaNOW Audiences” are to demonstrate achievements, excellence and ambitions of Scotland in water governance, water technology, research, education, innovation, sustainability; engage with the people of Scotland and the wider world about water as a human and environmental resource; promote initiatives, in Scotland and internationally, including the Hydro Nation International Centre (HNIC) and the Hydro Nation Scholars programme; encourage cross-disciplinary attention to themes including “The Philosophy of a Hydro Nation”; “Green Meds for Blue Water”; “The Future of Water Stewardship”; “Water and Resilient Cities”; “Water and the Climate Crisis”. The events are produced by Scotland-based international water news publisher OOSKAnews; video footage can be found at

AquaNOW audience in progress

As Scottish and international attention turns to the global climate conference (COP26, Glasgow, November 2021), future “aquaNOW Audiences” will have increasing focus on the nexus between water and climate challenges, reinforcing Scotland’s position as a Hydro Nation.

Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS)

AWS is the custodian of the AWS Standard, a globally applicable framework for major water users to understand their water use and impacts, and to work collaboratively and transparently for sustainable water management within a catchment context.

On 12-13 November 2019, with support from the Scottish Government, AWS convened 150 water stewardship professionals from more than 25 countries in Edinburgh for the fourth AWS Global Water Stewardship Forum. The objective of the Forum is threefold: to provide a peer learning and networking space for practitioners, to serve as an entry point for potential practitioners new to AWS and to provide input to the strategic direction of AWS in the coming twelve months. The Forum provides a valuable opportunity for the global water stewardship community to collaborate and learn from each other to build and strengthen water stewardship activities around the world.

In January 2020, Caithness General, in Wick, became the first hospital in the world to be certified against the AWS Standard. NHS Highland achieved the award as a result of a multi-agency project designed to reduce the pollution caused by medicines emanating from the hospital. Other collaborators in the project include: Aurora Sustainability Group, Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), Scottish Water, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), and the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Environmental Research Institute (ERI). The certification is a recognition of the ongoing initiative designed to make the healthcare provided at the hospital “greener” by reducing its environmental impact. The hospital is so far the only site of its kind in the United Kingdom to achieve AWS certification.

Local Water Solutions for Global Problems e-Learning programme reaches over 100 countries

Between 2015 and 2018 the Scottish Government, CIFAL Scotland, University of Strathclyde, CREW, Gaia Education and UNITAR developed a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) on Local Water Solutions for Global Problems. The course covers a number of global water challenges including human development needs, water security, water quality, water availability, root causes of water scarcity, water distribution and equity, and the interactions between climate change and water, while providing innovative local solutions and showcasing some of the best practice of Scotland- the Hydro Nation.

The programme has a number of UN alignments. The course was launched internationally during World Water Day 2018, marking the launch of the UN International Decade for Action – Water for Sustainable Development (2018–2028). The content development and the consortium of partners are informed by the Sustainable Development Goal 6- Clean Water and Sanitation and its eight universally applicable targets, in particular by Target 6.a: expand international cooperation and capacity building.

Springing from Scotland but embracing and showcasing a myriad of localised water solutions in Malawi, Rwanda, India and other countries the programme has its unique contribution to the international water agenda and debates. It offers a comprehensive overview of global water challenges and the means to identify local solutions while achieving pressing social, economic and environmental objectives.

Local Water Solutions has been conducted five times through the UNITAR virtual learning platform. The consortium of partners are pleased as the programme has been attracting a high number of professionals from over 100 countries who report a high rate of applicability of the course content in their professional fields.

Private Water Supplies – ‘Finding the right solution’

CAS, in partnership with DWQR, carried out further research to better understand the factors that influence choice for private water supply users or contractors when selecting water treatment solutions. Research findings[3] highlighted that most unregulated supplies are not tested or treated and that those consuming the water are largely unaware of the risks of drinking untreated water. The management of private supplies are largely determined by differing attitudes, perceptions and assumptions rather than a scientific approach to managing risk. Supply owners take pride in their own inventiveness, self-sufficiency and understanding of what their supply requires in terms of treatment. Makeshift and remedial treatment systems, such as the use of surgical stockings, are frequently used to provide basic filtration and remove visible debris.

Annual testing of regulated supplies only really reflects a moment in time, and does not account for the variability of water quality during the rest of the year. Support for those responsible for private supplies is inconsistent and largely dependent on which local authority area the supply resides. Local authorities face the challenge of persuading supply owners that more needs to be done to treat a supply against long held views that the water is safe to drink because it is ‘pure and unadulterated’. Some owners perceive that local authorities will interfere unnecessarily and therefore ‘fly under the radar’ to protect their independence.

However, research also highlighted that some supply owners worry about the quality of their water and want mains connection but cannot afford it. For others, purchasing the right treatment to make their water safe to drink is unaffordable. Available grant funding is limited in terms of its amount and what it can be used for.

Lastly, research highlighted that in the event that a private supply runs out of water following extreme weather events, such as prolonged dry weather in 2018 and the spring of 2020, community members may have no alternative source. Research findings are being used to inform ongoing policy development as part of the Scottish Government’s Private Water Supply Working Group.

DWQR Private Water Supply Risk Assessment Tool

Scotland has in excess of 20,000 private water supplies (PWS) that are not supplied by Scottish Water. Compliance with water quality standards is poor, and the supplies are often poorly managed and maintained. Risk assessment by local authorities, who regulate PWS, is the primary way to understand and control the unique risks.

In order improve the rigour and consistency of the approach to risk assessments, and to provide support to local authorities, the DWQR has developed a web-based portal to enable local authorities to input and store risk assessments for their PWS. The secure portal leads authorities through the risk assessment process to ensure they are completed correctly and enables them to store information and documents relevant to the supply. For DWQR, the portal means that information on PWS risks can be collected centrally, providing a national picture of risks for the first time.

The risk assessment portal was developed in full collaboration with local authorities to ensure that it met both their needs and those of DWQR. The intention was to create something that was intuitive to use, but that ensured five-yearly risk assessments were completed thoroughly and to the same standard across Scotland. The portal was rolled out with a series of training sessions held in local areas. This also provided an opportunity to deliver technical training on PWS treatment and to discuss PWS regulation in general.

Drinking Water Quality Regulator (DWQR) risk assessment tool

World Water Day – 22 March 2020

It was with deep regret that this year’s World Water Day event at Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh was cancelled because of the unfolding concerns around the Covid-19 pandemic. This year’s topic of “Water and the Climate Crisis” was a precursor event to the also postponed COP26 in Glasgow. The day was planned to examine how Scotland’s water research, industry, regulation, policy and public sectors are addressing this shared challenge. The World Water Day 2019 Reports (Exploring Scotland’s Resilience to Drought and Low Flow Conditions) were launched and are available here.

Centre of Expertise for Waters

The Centre for Expertise for Waters (CREW), supported by the Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division (RESAS) of Scottish Government, delivers research and expert opinion to support the Government and its partners in the development and implementation of water policy. The principal policy areas include Flooding and Coastal Erosion; Water Quality; Catchment Management; and Sustainable Communities, along with a broader engagement supporting the Hydro Nation agenda, biodiversity and climate crises and the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

Delivering research to address policy needs:
CREW has supported policy teams responsible for the Flood Risk Management Act (Scotland) 2009 (Impacts of Flooding in North-east Scotland; Communities at Risk of Flooding and their Attitudes towards Natural Flood Management (NFM); Quantifying rates of urban creep in Scotland). Coastal erosion continues to be a policy priority and significant progress towards Phase 2 of Scotland’s Coastal Change Assessment (NCCA2) has enhanced the evidence base of coastal change; produced mitigation, adaptation and resilience plans at key sites; increased adaptation awareness and assessed social vulnerability to coastal erosion. More specifically NCCA2 supported the delivery of the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Climate Change Committee report and Scotland’s obligations under multiple aspects of the Climate Change Adaptation Programme, Flood Risk Management Act, Community Resilience Strategy, Scottish Planning Policy, National Marine Plan, Historic Environment Scotland’s Climate Change Action Plan, Land Use Strategy and Scottish Biodiversity Strategy.

The European Commission welcomed the provisional agreement on the ‘recast’ Drinking Water Directive in December 2019, however, the proposed deadline for completing the Directive review was October 2020 (delayed due to Covid-19). Until this key legislation is complete, CREW has focussed on delivering a cohort of drinking water related projects (including a ‘Reviewing best practice in the delivery of good drinking water quality using a prevention-led approach’; ‘A review of investment decisions at small drinking water supply systems’ and Natural sources of phenols and mitigation measures to reduce their release into the water environment and a cross-thematic project on ‘Climate Change and Private Water Supplies’.

CREW continues to deliver evidence on the effectiveness of the River Basin Management Plan (2016-21), currently in its fourth year of implementation, and has contributed advice and recommendations to SEPA to inform the completion of the 3rd River Basin Management Plan. Similarly CREW outputs have been used to help inform SEPA reviews of the EU Water Framework and Bathing Waters Directives in 2019 and 2020 respectively, and associated monitoring strategies though the delivery of projects such as ‘Review of monitoring techniques and sampling strategies to identify the most significant sources of FIO within a catchment’. CREW projects and their outputs have also informed the development of SEPA’s sector plans to support delivery of SEPA’s regulatory strategy- One Planet Prosperity.

As the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in spring 2020, CREW commissioned a collaborative rapid response project to determine whether SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA could be detected in municipal wastewater as part of a national surveillance initiative.



Back to top