Water is life; a vital part of Scotland's natural capital that underpins everything we do. Our economy, environment, health and wellbeing are all inextricably linked to water.
With around 70% of the area, and 90% of the volume of all Britain's inland surface water, Scotland is extremely fortunate to have such a critical resource in abundance.
As a resource that underpins key industries like food and drink, water of course also presents opportunity.
That's an opportunity to develop its value, to understand and optimise its use, to harness its power to increase the productivity and efficiency of our industries. And an opportunity to enjoy its aesthetic qualities and contribution to our health, wellbeing and leisure.
We should demonstrate exemplary practice in managing all of our natural resources, leading by example, and sharing with the world the knowledge and expertise we have acquired in water.
All of these factors come together under the aims and objectives of the Hydro Nation.
Our vision of Scotland as a 'Hydro Nation,' recognises the critical importance of water as part of our national and international identity.
Today, I will outline how we are developing the economic, and non-economic, value of our water resources to deliver on our ambition to be a world leader in its responsible management.
The approach is ambitious, innovative and outward-looking. It places the people of Scotland at its centre, recognises our duty to them and to the environment which sustains us all.
In a world where over a billion people do not have access to clean water and many more live without basic sanitation, we see a clear role for Scotland to help make a difference.
I will set out some of the ground-breaking international work being undertaken in the name of Hydro Nation that is already improving lives and underpinning this Government's commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
But let me begin closer to home.
In Scottish Water, we benefit from a world-class utility providing water and sewerage services delivered through a public-ownership model for the benefit of the vast majority of people in Scotland. We can take great pride that year on year, its levels of performance show what can be achieved by a well-managed and highly-motivated public-sector organisation.
Since establishment, Scottish Water has reduced service costs by over 40%, environmental incidents by 34% and leakage by 50%.
Equally significantly, Scottish Water has reduced its carbon footprint by nearly a quarter (24%) since first reported in 2006. This year the company reached an important milestone by facilitating enough renewable generation to meet 100% of its electricity requirements.
I want to emphasise that all of this is in the context of an average household charge some £38 lower than in England and Wales.
As well as underpinning our economy as a whole, water is a key business sector in its own right, now recognised as such by our enterprise and development agencies so that we can tailor and deliver the support it needs to grow and flourish.
Scottish Development International has recently published an updated Capability Statement that presents our key strengths, experience and expertise.
In terms of the breadth of business support, innovation is integral to our approach.
The establishment of the Hydro Nation Water Innovation Service means that the sector is now benefitting from targeted and dedicated specialist one-to-one support to help tackle barriers faced by small and medium-sized businesses in bringing their products to market.
This is supported by two full-scale testing facilities at operational Scottish Water sites – Gorthleck for water treatment and Bo'Ness for wastewater.
During the summer, I visited the Gorthleck plant and saw for myself how it is helping innovative businesses develop their products. It is also hosting technical trials to review the feasibility of employing decentralised water supplies for remote households, growing our understanding of the options for an alternative provision model for those on private supplies struggling to maintain their existing supply.
We remain fully committed to the service and are at an advanced stage of preparing to procure its evolution.
Sitting alongside the industry, our academic and research sector is delivering ground-breaking research, including through CREW and our innovative and challenging post-graduate Hydro Nation Scholars Programme.
CREW is Scotland's Centre of Expertise for Waters. Funded by the Scottish Government and hosted by the James Hutton Institute, CREW provides a vital knowledge hub where calls for research are co-ordinated across academic institutions, government and the water sector, helping to improve the understanding of water in the environment, industry, pollution, resource management and technology.
The Scholars Programme is designed to deliver the water leaders of the future with a cohort of 19 talented PhD scholars studying a wide range of topics identified as key to moving understanding forward and enhancing Scotland's reputation as a centre for academic excellence. The programme delivered its first Alumnus this summer.
Our industry is supported by a unique and internationally respected model of governance and regulation which reflects the sense of community and shared purpose that Hydro Nation has engendered.
Our economic, environmental and drinking water quality regulators work closely and inter-connectedly with Government and Scottish Water to drive improved performance and promote the sector's interests.
Their expertise and impact is increasingly recognised through demand for advisory services to help address challenges in other jurisdictions.
We have recently established the Hydro Nation International theme to reach out to the world to share our academic excellence and expertise in water governance and water management technology.
Our approach aims to bring better coherence, alignment and consistency to our international activity including the management of collaborative research projects, and deliver more actively-managed academic networks that can respond collectively to funding call opportunities, and support other opportunities for the wider sector.
I must make special mention of Malawi, a country with which we enjoy a special relationship.
We are committed to supporting Malawi through Hydro Nation's contribution to the Climate Justice Fund with the aim of making the Sustainable Development Goal six a reality.
The programme has already delivered:
- access to clean and safe water to over 33,000 people
- over 6,000 people with improved water resource management skills
- over 4,000 people using new irrigation techniques and conservation agriculture practices.
We are building on these successes by extending the scope to include water pump technology enhancement trials which will increase their efficiency. And we are working with major UK retailers to secure in-country water sustainability for key export products such as tea and coffee.
We are also responding to the huge potential and need in India in relation to water resources by engaging with key Indian partners to introduce Hydro Nation and help build links between the scientific research and business communities. We are exploring with our Indian partners the mechanisms to develop pilot technical projects with potential to tackle some of India's most pressing water issues.
In considering how Hydro Nation can make a significant global impact, we also recognise the potential within the public sector to provide commercial and advisory services related to water.
My officials are working with a number of bodies, including SEPA, WICS and Scottish Water International to understand and develop the potential for cross-sectoral collaboration and the structures to support that.
In these remarks I set out how we are delivering across each of the themes set out in the Hydro Nation strategy agreed with the Hydro Nation Forum that I chair – supporting our domestic industry, maintaining and improving service and quality standards for customers, and driving down carbon impacts through innovative energy generation.
For those on private supplies we will continue to pursue suitable options for an alternative provision model.
We will build on our academic strengths to ensure Scotland's place as a thought leader on water issues, and continue delivering on our commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals through targeted international activity.
We will develop and support new commercial opportunities for our businesses and public bodies, at home and overseas, developing our water economy and enhancing its contribution to a low-carbon economy that benefits all of Scotland.
Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000
The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House