Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Authorisations and consents for discharges

Water management

There are strict controls on discharging substances and materials to land, surface waters or groundwater.

Surface waters include rivers, lakes, loughs, lochs, streams, reservoirs and canals. Groundwater is all water located below the water table.

Discharging to water

In Northern Ireland, if you discharge anything other than clean, uncontaminated water you must have a:

  • discharge consent for discharges to surface water
  • a groundwater authorisation for discharges to groundwater.

These consents and authorisations are issued by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).

You must comply with the conditions of your discharge consent or groundwater authorisation.

In Scotland, if you discharge anything to the water environment you may require an authorisation from SEPA - See SEPA: Water - Controlled Activities Regulations (CAR). Some discharges are authorised if you comply with the general binding rules (GBR). In such cases, you do not need to apply for authorisation from SEPA.

You must comply with the conditions of your authorisation.

Further information on discharging to water

See the page on environmental consents to discharge to water in our guideline: Preventing water pollution

If you discharge anything to the public foul sewer, see the page in this guideline: Trade effluent - managing liquid wastes

Discharging to land

In Northern Ireland, you must obtain a discharge consent from the NIEA if you discharge trade effluent (liquid waste) into land or more than 2 cubic metres per day of treated sewage into land.

In Scotland, you must obtain an authorisation from SEPA for all discharges of trade effluent (liquid waste) and treated sewage into land.

Prevent pollution

You must ensure there's no risk of contaminated run-off from your premises polluting surface waters or groundwater. For example, your vehicles may leak oil, or rainwater may be contaminated by chimney emissions.

You can be prosecuted for allowing any polluting matter to enter surface waters or groundwater.

Further information

NIEA: Regulation of water discharges

NIEA: Groundwater authorisations

SEPA: Applications for authorisations

SEPA: Groundwater discharge information

SEPA: Septic Tanks

You can apply online if the system:

  • has been in use for 2 years or more; and
  • serves 9 properties or less.

In this Guideline

Types of environmental licence

Pollution prevention and control permits and waste management licences

Authorisations and consents for discharges

Trade effluent consents and agreements

Water abstraction and impoundment authorisations

Waste carrier, broker and dealer registration

Hazardous/special waste notifications

Radioactive substances authorisations

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NIEA - Apply online

SEPA - Application forms