Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Water use and abstraction

Water consumption and water abstraction

This guidance is relevant to you if you take (abstract) water from ground or surface waters or store (impound) water on a watercourse to use for your business processes.

What you must do

Northern Ireland

If you abstract more than 20m3 of water per day, you must get an abstraction licence from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).

If you abstract 20m3 or less of water per 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 per day you must also notify NIEA.


If you abstract 10m3 or less of water per day you must comply with certain general binding rules (GBRs), and you will not need to contact SEPA.

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

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

SEPA: Practical guide to the Water Environment Regulations (Adobe PDF - 540KB)

Check if you need an impounding licence

Northern Ireland

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

  • does not control the water level upstream
  • is not associated with a water abstraction
  • 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 NIEA to impound water in all other circumstances.


You can operate existing weirs, such as a weir where the only purpose is to raise the water level upstream, as long as:

  • the height difference between the upstream and downstream water surfaces is one metre or less
  • the impoundment is not associated with a water abstraction
  • the water level cannot be varied
  • there is no impact on the migratory passage of salmon or sea trout.

You will need a licence from SEPA for all other existing weirs and before you build any new weirs. You may also need an engineering authorisation under the Controlled Activities Regulations. See SEPA's practical guide for more information.

SEPA: Practical guide to the Water Environment Regulations (Adobe PDF - 540KB)

In Northern Ireland and Scotland, see our guidance on water use and efficiency for more detailed information, including guidance on how to apply for licences.


In Scotland, if you have a reservoir that is capable of holding more than 25,000m3 of water above natural ground level, you must register it with SEPA before 30 September 2015. All Reservoirs currently registered with the Local Coucil will have to be registered with SEPA by thois date. You must appoint a panel engineer to supervise and inspect it.

For information about reservoir safety and how to register your reservoir, see the Scottish Government website.

Scottish Government: Reservoir safety

Good practice

Reduce the amount of water you use. This could reduce your water supply and effluent treatment costs, as well as your business' environmental impact.

Compare the amount of water you use with equipment suppliers' recommended levels of water use. This will help you to see where you might be able to save water.

Reuse water use wherever possible.

Envirowise: Reduce your water use and collect savings

Further information on water use and abstraction

NIEA: Surface Water Abstraction Monitoring Plan Guidance

Northern Ireland Water: Water efficiency

NIEA: Water abstraction and impoundment licensing

Business Stream: Water efficiency pages

Contact your environmental regulator

SEE ALSO: Water use and efficiency

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NIEA - Apply online

SEPA - Application forms