Lessons from the 2018 drought for management of local water supplies in upland areas: a tracer-based assessment

Jessica Fennell* (Corresponding Author), Josie Geris, Mark E. Wilkinson, Ronald Daalmans, Christopher Soulsby

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Climate change, combined with industrial growth and increasing demand, could result in serious future water shortages and related water quality and temperature issues, especially for upland and humid areas. The extreme 2018 drought that prevailed throughout Europe provided an opportunity to investigate conditions likely to become more frequent in the future. For an upland rural catchment utilised by the distilling industry in North‐East Scotland, a tracer‐based survey combined discharge, electrical conductivity, stable water isotopes and temperature measurements to understand the impacts of drought on dominant stream water and industry water sources, both in terms of water quantity and quality (temperature). Results showed that water types (groundwater, ephemeral stream water, perennial stream water and water from small dams) were spatially distinct and varied more in space than time. With regards to the drought conditions we found that streams were largely maintained by groundwater during low flows. This also buffered stream water temperatures. Water types with high young water fractions were less resilient, resulting in streams with an ephemeral nature. Although our results demonstrated the importance of groundwater for drought resilience, water balance data revealed these storage reserves were being depleted and only recovered towards the end of the following year because of above average rainfall in 2019. Increased storage depletion under continued trends of extreme drought and water abstraction could be addressed via informed (nature based) management strategies which focus on increasing recharge. This may improve resilience to droughts as well as floods, but site specific testing and modelling are required to understand their potential. Results could have implications for management of water volumes and temperature, particularly for the sustainability of an historic industry, balancing requirements of rural communities and the environment.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHydrological Processes
Early online date14 Jul 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 14 Jul 2020


  • climate change
  • drought
  • enviromental tracers
  • groundwater-resilence
  • water resources
  • management
  • temperature

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