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Water discharge and groundwater activity exemptions

In order to register an exempt water discharge activity or groundwater activity you must read and understand the appropriate guidance below

Details required

You will also need the following details to register:

  • The applicant’s name and address including postcode or 12-digit grid reference of the location(s) where the exemption(s) are to be carried out
  • The address (including postcode) or 12-digit grid reference of the location(s) where the exemption(s) are to be carried out

Exemption: discharges from ground source open-loop heat pump systems

You’re exempt from needing an environmental permit for the discharge, but must register your exemption, if you have a ground source heating and cooling system that’s any of the following:

  • a cooled aquifer system with a volume of less than 1500 cubic metres per day
  • a balanced system with a volume of less than 430 cubic metres per day
  • a heated aquifer system with a volume of less than 215 cubic metres per day

See the guidance notes at the bottom of this page for further details on these systems.

You must also be able to meet the conditions of the exemption.

Conditions of the exemption

To be eligible for the exemption the following conditions must all apply.

The system:

  • will discharge water at a temperature that won’t exceed 25°C and won’t vary by more than 10°C compared to that in the aquifer from which it was abstracted
  • isn’t on a known contaminated site or one where contaminating activities used to take place
  • will abstract and discharge within the same aquifer

The water within the system:

  • won’t have anything added to it, eg additives used for descaling
  • won’t be used for any other purpose

The system won’t discharge water within any of the following:

  • 50 metres of a watercourse or a groundwater-fed wetland (eg site of special scientific interest)
  • 50 metres of any groundwater abstraction (eg borehole, well or spring) used for any purpose
  • a groundwater source protection zone 1 (SPZ1) that’s used to supply water for domestic or food production purposes

If you can’t meet these conditions you need to apply for a bespoke permit.

This exemption is just for the environmental permit and you must still apply for an abstraction licence and groundwater investigation consent.

Exemption: discharge to groundwater for scientific purposes

You can register an exemption to discharge small quantities of substances to groundwater for scientific purposes, as part of:

  • a specified groundwater remediation scheme
  • a groundwater tracer test

To qualify for an exemption in these circumstances you must ensure that:

  • you have done a water features survey to show that the discharge will not cause pollution
  • you have the consent of every person with a right to abstract water in the discharge area you register your exemption before the discharge begins
  • you monitor discharges that are part of a specified groundwater remediation scheme to find out if pollution has occurred

Read the Environment Agency’s guidance to see if your activity is eligible for registration:

Horizontal guidance H1 - Annex J 2: guidance on the discharge of small quantities of substances for scientific purposes

Exemption: Management of vegetation in or near inland freshwaters

If you cut or uproot a substantial amount of vegetation in any inland freshwater (or so near that it falls into an inland freshwater) and don’t take reasonable steps to remove the vegetation from the water, then you are undertaking a water discharge activity. You may be exempt from the requirement to hold a permit if you can meet the following conditions:

vegetation removed from the water is deposited in accordance with Defra guidance if it is necessary to allow vegetation to pass downstream:

  • you give prior notice of the activity to anyone that may be affected
  • there is sufficient flow to convey the vegetation
  • you register the exempt activity with us
  • the activity does not cause pollution

Defra has produced guidance on these conditions, see annex 4 of Environmental permitting guidance: water discharge activities.

How to register your water discharge or groundwater exemption

You can register an exemption for discharges from ground source open-loop heat pump systems via the link below. 

Register your ground source exemption(s) here

You can register an Exemption for a discharge to groundwater for scientific purposes or for Management of vegetation in or near inland freshwaters via the link below. 

Register your exemption(s) here

Alternatively you can apply using the electronic form at the bottom of the page. This form can be posted or emailed directly to us. The relevant addresses are on the form.

Once registered your exemption details will appear on the water exemption public register

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