Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Water use authorisations in Northern Ireland

Water use authorisations in Northern Ireland

You must have authorisation from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) to abstract water from:

  • surface waters such as rivers, lakes and wetlands
  • coastal waters, ie water within three nautical miles of land
  • transitional water, such as estuaries and water in the vicinity of river mouths
  • underground strata such as wells, boreholes and springs.

You may also need authorisation from the NIEA if you own, operate, maintain or plan an impoundment, such as a reservoir, which is used to store water.

Apply for an abstraction authorisation

Abstracting less than 10 cubic metres (m³) of water a day with minimal risk to the environment is called a permitted controlled activity (PCA). You don't need to contact the NIEA, but you must:

  • be able to demonstrate the volume of water you abstract
  • minimise water leaks
  • prevent any contamination or pollution.

If you take between 10m³ and 20m³ a day, you must notify the NIEA and comply with PCA conditions.

If you abstract more than 20m³ you need an abstraction licence from the NIEA. You will need a:

  • simple licence if you abstract between 20m³ and 100m³ of water per day
  • complex licence if you abstract more than 100m³ of water per day.

Both licences may be subject to conditions such as the maximum rate at which you can abstract water and the maximum volume you can take in any day.

Apply for an impoundment authorisation

You can impound water without contacting the NIEA as long as your impoundment:

  • does not control the water level upstream
  • is not associated with an abstraction of water
  • does not create a difference in height of more than one metre between the upstream and downstream water surfaces.

You will need an impoundment licence from the NIEA to impound water in all other circumstances.

The NIEA can review, modify or remove a licence if the licence holder requests it, or to prevent significant or serious damage to the environment. You may also need to submit an environmental statement to the NIEA before starting projects that use more than 200m³ of water per day, for example agricultural spray irrigation.

NIEA: How to apply for an abstraction or impoundment licence

DAERA has produced a handbook is for landowners and people and organisations involved in carrying out activities that may alter the physical characteristics or flows of rivers and other waterbodies. The activities covered include dredging and substrate addition, removal of bankside vegetation, bed and bank reinforcements, flow manipulation and culverting.

DAERA: Surface Waters Alterations Handbook

Contact your environmental regulator

QPA: Guidance for the Wise Use of Water in the Aggregates and Quarry Producers Industry

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NIEA - Apply online

SEPA - Application forms