In this article the water resource specialists at WTS consider why and how an individual or business would apply for a water abstraction licence, and the processes involved.
The article explains what an abstraction licence is, why and when they are required, the different types of licence, how long an application typically takes, how much they cost; and the processes involved in changing, cancelling or transferring the licence to abstract water.
What is a water abstraction licence?
Any individual or business who wants to extract water from either a surface source like a lake, river or stream, or an underground source such as a borehole or well will need an official water abstraction licence if they are removing more than 20 cubic metres of water per day.
In the UK such licences are issued by the Environment Agency in England and Wales, and their sister organisations in Northern Ireland and Scotland. The Environment Agency advises contacting them before any water abstraction commences, so they can discuss the plans in details.
Why do I need an abstraction licence?
Water is a precious resource, and it is the job the Environment Agency to safeguard both water supply and ensure that abstraction is not causing environmental damage. If there were no checks on the abstraction of water, this could easily lead to water shortages for consumers, damage to wildlife and their habitats and the loss of rivers and streams as a leisure resource. Issuing licences allows the Environment Agency to control how much water is being removed from the supply. All applications for a new licence to extract water are evaluated for environmental impact, according to legislation and guidelines such as the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations.
When do I need a licence to extract water?
In the vast majority of cases, you will need an abstraction licence if you want to take groundwater, or water from a surface source such as lakes or streams. You will not need a licence if you are only removing small quantities of water under 20 cubic metres per day, if you are taking water to fill ships with ballast or to fight fires, or removing on occasion more than 20 cubic metres per day for testing and analysis. The system is complex and some of the exemptions are technical, so if you are unsure about whether or not you require a licence, speak to the Environment Agency for specific advice on your situation.
Understanding the water licensing system
After your licence is granted, this gives you the right to take a specified volume of water from a named source such as a river or underground water source. A licence also guarantees that nobody else can apply for a licence to take the volume of water which has been allocated to you. However, having an abstraction licence granted to remove a certain volume of water doesn’t mean that quantity of water will always be available to take. Water levels and water quality can depend on the weather, the time of year and other factors outside anyone’s control.
The abstraction licence will tell you how much water you are permitted to take, where you can take the water from, and what you can use the water for. Depending on the situation, there may be other conditions attached to your licence which you have to stick to, in order to protect both the environment, and other people who also have licences to abstract water.
The Environment Agency grants licences for a set period of time only, usually 12 years. Once granted, usually licences can be easily renewed, but you will have to proactively apply for a renewal, and show the Environment Agency that you still have a need for the water.
What are the different types of abstraction licence?
There are four different types of water abstraction licence which can be granted in England and Wales. If you are at all unsure about which licence is best for your needs, speak to the Environment Agency for advice. The four main types of licence are:
How long will the licence application take?
The Environment Agency aim to have a decision for you within 13 weeks of you submitting your application for a licence. The process for granting a temporary licence is typically quicker, and in those cases, the Agency aims to have a decision within 28 days.
It’s important to remember that abstraction of water can’t begin until the licence has been granted, so it’s important to leave plenty of time in the system to get the licence in place before starting work. In some cases, the fact that you have applied for a licence needs to be advertised publicly, which can mean that your licence may take longer to grant. If you are not happy with the decision made by the Environment Agency, then you can appeal to the Secretary of State.
How much do water abstraction licences cost?
When submitting an application to the Environment Agency, you pay an application charge for the processing of the paperwork, and the registration of the application. Payment should be included with the application form. If your application is one of those which requires advertising, then you will be expected to pay for that too.
Once your abstraction licence has been granted, there is an annual fee, calculated based on the amount of water which the licence allows you to abstract. There are details on how these charges are calculated on the Environment Agency website.
The charge is calculated on a range of factors, including what you wish to use the water for, the source you are taking the water from, the time of year and other factors which the Environment Agency feel are relevant. There is usually no fee for transfer or temporary licences. If expert reports or consultants are required, you will have to pay their fees too.
Changing, cancelling or transferring your abstraction licence
If you decide you no longer wish to extract water, you can apply to have your licence revoked. If you want to change the terms of your licence to remove more or less water, you will have to discuss this with the Environment Agency. Water abstraction licences can also be transferred to a new owner if you decide to sell your land, or lease it to someone else.
Specialist solutions for water abstraction
Water Treatment Services offer a comprehensive range of innovative water and wastewater management solutions.
Our experts can provide advice and support to help you identify the most appropriate strategies for the identification, investigation, implementation and management of water abstraction programmes from surface and groundwater sources.
With offices in London serving the South and South East England, Manchester (North West), Birmingham (Midlands), Bristol (South East England and Wales), Leeds (North and North East) and Glasgow (Scotland), supported by regional teams of specially trained engineers and wastewater treatment specialists we offer cost effective environmental support solutions across the whole of the UK and internationally.
Contact us today to learn how our water abstraction solutions can help you reduce costs, maintain water quality standards and improve environmental performance.
More information about borehole water, wells and private water supplies.