The key changes to reservoir safety under the Reservoirs (Scotland) Act 2011, and who will be affected

The regulatory landscape for reservoir safety in Scotland is changing. The existing regime under the Reservoirs Act 1975 needed modernisation and as a result the Scottish Government introduced new risk based legislation, the Reservoirs (Scotland) Act 2011.

This article highlights the key changes to reservoir safety and who will be affected. If you have clients who currently own a reservoir or are thinking about acquiring a reservoir, there are number of significant changes which will be enforced through the phased implementation of the 2011 Act.

The 1975 Act is still in effect and enforced by Scotland’s 32 local authorities. It requires all reservoirs capable of holding 25,000 cubic metres of water above the natural level of the land to be registered and to comply with the legislation; this includes appointing engineers to undertake monitoring and inspections and to produce reports detailing works that must be undertaken by the owner or operator to ensure the continued structural integrity of the reservoir.

The implementation of the 2011 Act will introduce a number of key changes and benefits to the industry:

  • one national enforcement and regulatory agency (the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)), providing greater consistency;
  • enforcement on the basis of a high, medium or low risk designation which is assigned to each reservoir by SEPA, based on the consequence of an uncontrolled release of water from the reservoir;
  • different levels of statutory monitoring and inspection by engineers based on the risk designation, with low sites having less regulation than higher risk sites;
  • a public register will be held which will include a reservoir inundation map for each registered reservoir, showing the area of land likely to be flooded in the event of an uncontrolled release of water;
  • the threshold for registration will reduce from 25,000 cubic metres to just 10,000 cubic metres, which will result in currently unregulated reservoirs falling under the legislation.

SEPA is engaging with the reservoir industry and representative bodies to establish a regulatory regime which is fit for purpose and understood by those who will use it. You can help us raise awareness of the regulatory duties involved in owning a reservoir by helping your clients make informed decisions about acquiring or selling a reservoir in Scotland.

SEPA will help to support the reservoir industry through a suite of guidance documents that offer advice and good practice on how to fulfil the requirements of legislation. For further information about SEPA’s role and the new legislation, please visit SEPA’s website (, or contact us at

The Author
James Ashworth, principal policy officer, SEPA’s Reservoir Implementation Project, Scottish Environment Protection Agency
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