- By Steven McKenzie
- BBC’s Scottish Highlands and Islands Reporter
There have been concerns about the water levels of Loch Ness and the Ness River.
Lake levels fell to their lowest level in 32 years last month, according to figures from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa).
The Ness Fishing Council said levels remained at a worryingly low level and claimed the water could help alleviate the situation where it was being stored – not used – for hydroelectricity.
Energy company SSE Renewables says it is managing water use sensitively during challenging weather conditions.
Loch Ness is Scotland’s largest freshwater lake by volume, while the River Ness flows from Loch Dochfour, atop Loch Ness, and out to sea at Inverness. Lakes and rivers are part of what is known as the Ness system, an area of burn, river and lake that extends southwest of Inverness.
On May 24, Sepa recorded a water level of just over 109 cm (3.5 ft) at Foyers, which is the site of a pumped hydroelectric system that uses water from Loch Ness to generate electricity.
This is the lowest on record since December 1, 1990. It has increased slightly since then, but continues to be classified as “low”.
Sepa said the area has low rainfall.
It said in May the Loch Ness area was one of the driest in the UK and Inverness received only a third of its usual long-term average rainfall.
It adds the Ness area has seen below-average rainfall in winter and spring. On FridayThe agency raised its water scarcity warning for the region to “moderate” – the second-highest.
Sepa also upgraded the risk in the Loch Maree area in the Highlands to “significant” and placed 37 areas across the Firth of Clyde at “warning”.
The Ness County Salmon Fishing Commission, the statutory body responsible for protecting and enhancing salmon and sea trout fisheries in the Ness area, has expressed serious concern about the river’s health. Ness.
It said river levels were at levels normally seen in late July and August, with large areas drying up.
Director Brian Shaw said there are consequences for wild salmon populations, the river’s conservation status and its classification in terms of fishing.
Problems include salmon not being able to move easily from the sea to the river and rising water temperatures.
Mr Shaw said climate change was a factor and the council had noted trends in drier winters and springs.
But he said when water levels are low, hydropower generation has a huge impact, with water being drawn at Dochfour for the Caledonian Canal, which would otherwise flow into the Ness River.
“There’s a lot of concern and I think one of the key things is that we’re just entering summer very early and we’ve already reached historic lows twice,” Mr Shaw said.
He added: “Most people won’t appreciate how much control the Ness system has.
“When it gets to this low, almost every aspect of it is controlled by the hydro programs on the system.”
He said releasing water stored in the system at SSE’s Loch Garry and Loch Loyne reservoirs could help alleviate the situation.
Naturalist Adrian Shine, who has studied Loch Ness for many years, says the lake is at the lowest level he has seen since 1989.
“Loch Ness is so deep you won’t see a big difference on its surface and its sides are very steep, except in certain areas,” he said.
“The most notable area is Urquhart Bay and there’s a bay in that bay that’s dry, and I don’t remember that happening in ’89.”
Fiona Cairns, who has lived near the lake for most of her life and runs the Loch Ness Alpacas, also said it was the lowest she had ever seen.
She said her camels were able to sneak into their other field by circumventing the end of a fence that is often inaccessible due to the depth of the lake.
“We’ve had very little rain in the last few weeks and the burns have dried up so we haven’t filled the lake,” she added.
SSE Renewables says dry weather has affected rivers across the Highlands.
“While these arid conditions are challenging, our teams have worked closely with key environmental stakeholders such as Sepa and NatureScot to manage operations,” the spokesperson said. our hydropower in line with our environmental obligations, while continuing to provide zero-carbon electricity from our hydro and pumping storage assets.”
The spokesperson added that responsive water management has helped maintain higher flows in the Ness River than would be possible without hydropower, while maintaining water levels at Loyne and Garry lakes to protect locations designated nesting sites of protected species. bird.
The Scottish Canal says water levels are at an all-time low.
Environment director Olivia Lassiere said: “We anticipate more cases like this happening in the future, given the possible impacts of climate change.
“Our water use and Caledonian Canal operations are authorized and managed by Sepa, and we have robust plans in place to manage extreme situations like these, including contact Sepa to get their latest advice.”