Small dams could keep distilleries producing whisky through dry spells

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Small dams designed to capture water during wet periods could see distilleries no longer having to close during dry periods, researchers have found.

The University of Aberdeen and James Hutton Institute have worked with the Glenlivet distillery in Speyside, Aberdeenshire, to introduce environmentally sustainable solutions at Chivas Brothers’ distillery.

Led by PhD student Jessica Fennell, the project will help prevent the closure of the distillery during dry periods which are predicted to become more frequent due to climate change.

Many distilleries, including Glenlivet, have had to temporarily stop distilling in recent summers because of water shortages, costing the industry millions.

The study team surveyed the landscape to determine where dams would best protect groundwater supplies.

PhD student Jessica Fennell is leading the research (University of Aberdeen/PA)
PhD student Jessica Fennell is leading the research (University of Aberdeen/PA)

Ms Fennell said: “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.

“Crucially, this could prevent the distillery closing during dry periods which has a significant cost impact.

“Because these measures enhance groundwater recharge, and groundwater contribution to streams, our research has also raised the possibility of positive implications for water temperature. This is important because distilleries require cool water and groundwater is typically colder than surface water during summer.

“As water temperature is expected to increase with climate change, more water will be needed to achieve the same cooling effects, and increased groundwater flow could help stabilise stream temperatures as well as increase flows through dry summer periods.”

Inside the Glenlivet distillery (University of Aberdeen/PA)
Inside the Glenlivet distillery (University of Aberdeen/PA)

Dr Josie Geris, from the University’s School of Geosciences, supervised Ms Fennell and is a co-author of the study, which was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and Chivas Brothers, owners of The Glenlivet.

Dr Geris said: “The lessons learned can also potentially be applied to other areas of the economy that rely on private water supply and bring other potential benefits, for example in flood management, improvements to biodiversity and water quality, the restoration of upland habitats, and carbon storage.”

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