Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Water abstraction and impoundment authorisations

Water abstraction and impoundment

If you take or store surface water or groundwater from any source, you are abstracting or impounding water.

If you abstract or impound water, you may need authorisation:

  • In Northern Ireland, from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA)
  • In Scotland, from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

The type of authorisation you need will depend on how much water you take. You may need an authorisation even if you move water temporarily and return it to the source.

Surface water and groundwater sources include:

  • rivers
  • streams
  • loughs and lochs
  • reservoirs
  • estuaries
  • coastal waters
  • wells
  • springs
  • boreholes.

If you take water from the mains supply you don't need an authorisation or licence.

Check if you need an abstraction licence

Abstraction and impoundment in Northern Ireland

If you abstract more than 20 cubic metres (m³) of water a day from surface waters or groundwater, you must get an abstraction licence from the NIEA.

If you abstract 20m³ or less of water a day you must:

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

If you abstract between 10m³ and 20m³ of water a day you must also notify the NIEA.

Check if you need an impoundment licence

If you impound (store) water on a watercourse, for example to create a reservoir, you may need an impoundment licence from the NIEA.

For more information about when you need an abstraction or impoundment licence, see our guideline:

Water use and efficiency

Abstraction and impoundment in Scotland

Check your level of authorisation for abstractions

If you abstract less than 10 cubic metres (m³) of water a day from surface waters or groundwater, you must comply with general binding rules (GBRs), and you will not need to contact SEPA.

If you abstract more than 10m³ of water a day, you must register with SEPA. If you abstract more than 50m³ of water a day, you must have an abstraction licence from SEPA.

SEPA's practical guide gives you more information about GBRs and guidance on the level of authorisation that you will need for your activity.

SEPA: Controlled activities regulations (CAR) – A practical guide (PDF 562KB)

Check if you need an impoundment licence

You may need a licence from SEPA to carry out an existing impoundment activity, or to build any new impoundment structures, for example weirs or dams. You may also need an engineering authorisation under the Controlled Activities Regulations (CAR).

For more information about GBRs, registrations and licences and when you need an impoundment licence, see our guideline:

Water use and efficiency

Applying for licences

To get an abstraction or impoundment licence you should contact the NIEA or SEPA for an application form and to discuss your requirements.

You should also notify the NIEA or SEPA as early as possible if you're taking over an existing licence. The licence will remain the responsibility of the current licence holder until it is transferred.

NIEA: Apply for an abstraction or impoundment licence

SEPA: CAR application forms and guidance

Further information

NIEA: Applying to abstract or impound water

SEPA: Applications for authorisations

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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Permits

NIEA - Apply online

SEPA - Application forms