Dams protect drams in Scotch whisky project

A Scotch whisky producer is tackling the growing issue of water scarcity by creating dams that capture water and prevent the closure of its distillery during dry periods.

Researchers from the University of Aberdeen and James Hutton Institute have worked with The Glenlivet distillery to introduce a number of nature-based measures to protect against the threat of persistent heatwaves.

These include the creation of small dams in the landscape supplying the distillery, designed to capture water during wet periods and to make it available when water is scarce.

Many distilleries have had to temporarily stop distilling in recent summers because of water shortages, costing the industry millions. During the dry summer of 2018 groundwater supplies to the Speyside-based distillery, owned by Chivas Brothers, decreased and did not replenish until the following spring.

The project, which is being led by University of Aberdeen PhD student Jessica Fennell, is intended to help prevent the closure of the distillery during dry periods which are expected to become increasingly common under future climate change scenarios.

The study team carried out an initial survey of the landscape to determine where dams would best protect groundwater supplies. They then used a combination of field data collection and modelling tools to provide insights into how they operated once installed.

“Our results found that the features we installed will have a small but positive impact that could help increase water availability during periods of water scarcity and reduce flood peaks during high rainfall,” said Fennell. “Crucially, this could prevent the distillery closing during dry periods which has a significant cost impact.”

While the measures are considered important for the long-term viability of the distillery, they could also benefit the entire Scotch whisky industry, especially in upland areas, according to Dr Ronald Daalmans, environmental sustainability manager at Chivas Brothers.

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