Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Water use authorisations in Scotland

Water use authorisations in Scotland

If you take or store surface water or groundwater from any source, you are abstracting or impounding water. These activities are controlled through three levels of authorisation, according to the degree of risk to the water environment:

  • general binding rules (GBRs) - low environmental risk
  • registrations - low environmental risk
  • licences - high environmental risk.

Comply with general binding rules

You must comply with GBRs if you abstract:

  • less than 10m³ of water per day
  • less than 150m³ of water in a year from a borehole for the purpose of testing the yield of the borehole or the water quality

You do not need to contact the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), but you must comply with the rules specific to your activity.

See The Water Environment (Miscellaneous) (Scotland) Regulations 2017 guidance page for information on the GBRs.

Register abstractions

You must register with SEPA if you want to abstract:

  • between 10m³ and 50m³ per day from inland surface waters, or groundwater
  • more than 10m³ per day from coastal or transitional water, eg estuaries
  • from lochs when the full amount is to be returned to the same loch.

Discounts are available if you apply online.

SEPA: Applications for authorisations

Apply for an abstraction licence

If you abstract between 50m³ and 2,000m³ per day, you will need a simple licence. If you abstract more than 2,000m³ per day you will need a complex licence.

You will have to pay for your licence when you submit your application.

SEPA: Charging scheme for controlled water activities

You will need to apply to SEPA for your licence. If there is a high environmental risk to the water environment, your water use licence will set out specific controls for the site.

Apply for an impoundment licence

If you carry out impoundment activities you must have a licence from SEPA. However, you can continue to operate weirs that existed before 1 April 2006 and where the sole 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 water level upstream cannot be varied
  • there is no impact on the migratory passage of salmon or sea trout.

You should already have a water use licence from SEPA for all other existing weirs and before you build any new weirs or dams.

You should also take steps to secure efficient and sustainable water use. See the page in this guideline: Tips for saving water.

Register reservoirs

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. You must also appoint a panel engineer to supervise and inspect it.

Scottish Government: Reservoir safety

GOV.UK: Reservoir Panel engineers

Contact your environmental regulator

In this Guideline

Benefits of using water efficiently

Analyse how much water you use

Top tips for saving water

Grants, loans and allowances for water efficiency measures

Water use authorisations in Northern Ireland

Water use authorisations in Scotland

Water use and efficiency legislation

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NIEA - Apply online

SEPA - Application forms