Water, wastewater and drainage: consultation analysis

Summarises the responses that we received on our consultation on the the water, wastewater and drainage principles and considerations in developing policy for the future of the water industry in Scotland in response to the climate emergency.

Executive summary

The Scottish Government ran a written consultation between 21 November 2023 and 21 February 2024, seeking views on water, wastewater and drainage policy. This report provides a summary of the consultation responses.

The Scottish Government would like to thank all individuals, businesses and organisations who took the time to consider and respond to this consultation. Your collective input is invaluable in helping to inform our next steps.

The consultation posed a total of 37 questions, including 23 closed questions (e.g. receiving yes / no / don’t know responses) and 14 open-text questions (receiving free text responses). Questions addressed proposals for water, wastewater and drainage services in Scotland and was divided into five parts. The five parts were: (i) water resource planning, (ii) drinking water, (iii) drainage, (iv) wastewater and resource recovery, and (v) paying for services.

Responses to the consultation were accepted through three formats, including (i) the Citizen Space online platform, (ii) email (including PDF attachments), and (iii) by participating in public consultation engagement events.

A total of 492 responses were received. In addition, a total of 13 Scottish Government-led public consultation events were held, with approximately 900 attendees in total. Respondents included individuals, local authorities, public sector organisations, academic institutions, private bodies, and third-sector organisations.

Descriptive quantitative analysis was conducted on the closed-format questions, and thematic analysis was used to synthesise themes extracted from open-text questions and reports from public consultation events. Recurrent emerging themes in open-text questions were identified and are outlined below for each part of the consultation.

Recognising that respondents might want to respond to one or some of the proposals without wishing to express views on others, the consultation document was structured to allow respondents to answer questions independently.

Key findings

This section of the report includes a summary of key findings from the consultation responses, including quantitative (closed questions) and qualitative (open questions) responses for each section of the consultation. Percentages have been rounded up to the nearest decimal place. Sections 3-7 of this report will cover consultation responses for each section in more depth. Additionally, a full breakdown of the numbers and percentage response to each closed question is included in the Annex A.

Overall, there was broad support for the proposals put forward regarding water, wastewater and drainage services.

Water resource planning

In this section we outlined the pressures on our water resources and the need to secure the water supply for future generations through a collaborative approach to managing them. We also outlined the need to provide a resilient and sustainable water supply that delivers for the public, industry and the natural environment for years to come, at a cost acceptable to all consumers.

There is currently no legal requirement for us to plan for our water resources. As a consequence, there is a limited understanding of changing needs, future demands and continued availability of water. To protect the future of Scotland’s environment and economy, this needs to change. We need to understand what we need to do to ensure that we have a balance between what supply is needed to meet the demands placed upon our water resources, where those demands are and have a system for allocating it fairly. Planning for our water resources can enable us to respond better in times when there are greater pressures, such as in times of warmer, drier weather.

Policy proposals can be separated into the following actions:

  • create the legislative framework for an integrated planning approach to water resources across Scotland, supporting a climate resilient economy
  • deliver environmental and social benefit through an affordable and resilient water resource system
  • evolve and adapt to climate change, to protect and manage Scotland's water resources

Respondents broadly agreed with our proposals, including:

  • that Scotland needs to set out a plan to manage our water resources, for now and into the future
  • that taking a national view of catchment risks will help better protect drinking water sources from pollutants

Drinking water

In this section we outlined the need to manage and protect our water resources. This includes ensuring better use of water resources, continued protection of public health, and increased resilience of water supplies to climate change.

We need to make sure that we are able to provide a reliable supply of water during dry periods and act to protect the water supplies quickly during these times. We also need to make sure that the water that reaches our taps remains safe to drink, which requires us to consider all the possible risks. Whilst most of Scotland is served by a public supply of water there are some homes across Scotland that have private water supplies, which are especially vulnerable to climate change and we need to make sure that they are protected too.

Policy proposals can be separated into the following actions:

  • create a framework to manage emerging risks to drinking water sources
  • create measures to drive a net reduction in demand for drinking water via a suite of different levers
  • target elements of water supplies that have potentially high levels of risk associated, such as private distribution systems and domestic distribution systems
  • a risk-based regulatory approach for water supplies

The consultation analysis found that respondents broadly agreed with our proposals, including:

  • that everyone in Scotland needs to use less water, particularly if it avoids building expensive new infrastructure
  • education, behaviour change and utilising recycled water are essential to reducing how much water we use
  • drinking water supplies, regardless of size or ownership, should be tested and inspected to ensure drinking water is safe
  • all of Scotland’s plumbing should be made lead free

Where responses diverted slightly from our proposals was in relation to metering. Respondents were in favour of metering as a means of charging for water use with many citing that this would incentivise a reduction in water consumption.


In this section we outlined that the changing climate means we are seeing more extreme weather events such as periods of very heavy and/or intense rainfall which can lead to spills from sewer systems to the environment and cause flooding to homes and businesses. We need to make greater changes in the way we manage the consequences of extreme weather events as their frequency increases.

This requires taking a combination of actions, both large and small, to better manage rainwater. This includes reducing the risk of flooding and spills from combined sewer overflows into the water environment. This means installing bigger pipes (known as “grey infrastructure”) where necessary, but also installing blue-green infrastructure, which can hold rain close to where it falls, such as in raingardens, ponds, basins, wetlands, and green spaces. This prevents rainfall from entering the wastewater system, as well as providing attractive features that enhance public amenity and support greater biodiversity.

Policy proposals can be separated into the following actions:

  • enshrine principles of integrated drainage from sustainable flood risk management (FRM) guidance in legislation
  • create the legislative framework and clarity of responsibilities for collaborative planning and delivery of rainwater drainage infrastructure
  • enable the delivery of blue‐green places (at all scales) that are adaptable to future climate conditions
  • reduce the risk of surface water flooding through co-ordinated planning and delivery of investment
  • support this through National drainage network mapping and analysis and Rainwater Drainage Network Planning and powers to protect the drainage network though better control of connections

The consultation analysis found that respondents broadly agreed with our proposals, including:

  • that individuals and organisations have a role to play in managing rainwater differently, including installing sustainable rainwater management systems in homes
  • there is a need to plan, build, maintain and make room for drainage infrastructure to better manage rainwater
  • that Scotland’s drainage system should be a combination of grey and blue/green infrastructure, with significant support for blue/green infrastructure
  • planning, investment and partnership working will be required to deliver new drainage infrastructure

Wastewater and resource recovery

In this section we outlined the need to change our approach to managing our wastewater and sewerage network. Unless we respond to the changing climate by adapting our sewerage services now, the costs to households, businesses and the environment arising from floods from sewers will be much higher.

In addition to improved drainage, to further reduce the impact on the environment from spills we need to prevent blockages in our sewer systems by making sure that we correctly dispose of our household items in bins, such as wet wipes, cotton buds, sanitary products etc. rather than flushing them down our toilets. We also want to maximise the opportunity to use resources from wastewater to support a circular economy and to make it easier to adopt new and future technologies.

Policy proposals can be separated into the following actions:

  • create the legislative framework for wastewater collection and treatment in the best interests of Scotland, aligning with strategic drainage networks policies
  • contribute to reducing the risk of emerging contaminants
  • minimise the impact and harm from spills on the water environment
  • support a circular economy approach through resource recovery

The consultation analysis found that respondents broadly agreed with our proposals, including:

  • that more should be done to stop items being disposed of down toilets and drains, including better public awareness of the issue and banning certain products
  • that private wastewater treatment systems should be tested and inspected to ensure that they do not impact negatively on the environment
  • that offences for discharging to the sewer for non-household properties should be extended to other pollutants (aside from fats, oils and greases), and extended to household premises. However, there were some questions about how this would be enforced
  • that investment should be prioritised to address combined sewer overflows
  • that resource recovery is something that Scottish Water should be undertaking and that this should be able to be funded through customer charges

Paying for services

In this section we outlined the need to invest more to protect and enhance our services. We also outlined that currently household water and wastewater services are billed separately but collected alongside Council Tax. The charges are based on Council Tax Bands not the amounts of water used, wastewater removed or rainwater drained. This means that charges are based on a rising scale depending on your house band and a range of discounts can be applied to protect certain groups of people, including those on the lowest incomes.

To ensure that there is greater clarity regarding the services provided by Scottish Water, we proposed that we define three services: water, wastewater and drainage of rainwater with each service cost being clearly shown. This would make the cost of providing services and how we are investing your money clearer.

Respondents broadly agreed with our proposals, notably that:

  • changing our behaviour is essential to limit charge rises
  • we should recognise that there are three services (water, wastewater and drainage)

Responses to this section of the consultation diverged slightly from our proposals in relation to Council Tax. Respondents did not agree that Council Tax Band is the fairest way to charge for services used by households, referring instead to household metering or charging by household occupancy as being fairer.


Email: waterindustry@gov.scot

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