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Find out if you need a water abstraction or impoundment licence

Water abstraction and impoundment licensing

If you take (abstract) water from underground (groundwater) or any inland waters, or if you impede or obstruct (impound) flow within an inland water, you may need a licence from us. Inland waters can include:

  • a river or stream
  • a reservoir, lake or pond
  • a canal
  • a spring
  • a dock, channel, creek, bay, estuary or arm of the sea

It is an offence to abstract without a licence and we may take enforcement action against anyone abstracting without authorisation.

Do you need a licence to take (abstract) water?

You will need an abstraction licence if you take water from an inland water or from groundwater, unless it is exempt from licensing.

From 1 January 2018, most previously exempt abstractions need a licence. Find out more information about this change and how to apply for a transitional water resources licence.

You do not need an abstraction licence for:

  • abstractions of 20 cubic metres a day or less
  • abstraction by a vessel for use on that or another vessel
  • abstraction for fire-fighting purposes, or for training/practice or testing of apparatus used in fire- fighting
  • some navigation, harbour or conservancy authority abstractions
  • abstractions within managed wetland systems
  • draining water (dewatering) to prevent interference with building or engineering works, where the abstraction lasts for less than 6 consecutive months, subject to restrictions
  • third-party operated dry docks transferring water to and from a navigation authority’s water system
  • port, harbour or conservancy authority emergency abstractions

You must apply for a licence if you need one. If you take water without a licence, when one is needed, you are committing an offence and we may take enforcement action against you.

There are three types of abstraction licence:

  • A full abstraction licence – to abstract water over a period of 28 days or more
  • A transfer licence – to abstract water over a period of 28 days or more from one source to another source without an intervening use
  • A temporary abstraction licence – to abstract water over a period of less than 28 days

If you are not sure if you need a licence or which type you need, you can ask for pre-application advice.

Find out more about our pre-application advice service

Using the advice service may help you get your licence more quickly.

Do you need a licence if you obstruct or impede (impound) water?

Impoundments can include:

  • dams
  • weirs
  • fish passes
  • hydropower turbines
  • sluices
  • penstocks
  • culverts
  • lock gates
  • retaining walls, flumes
  • reservoir embankments
  • temporary diversions during construction work

You will need an impoundment licence if you construct, alter, repair or remove an impoundment structure.

You do not need an impoundment licence for the following exempt activities:

  • works constructed without a licence before 1 April 2006, except where we serve a notice requiring you to apply for a licence
  • where a navigation, harbour or conservancy authority constructs or alters an impoundment, or obstructs or impedes flow while carrying out its duties
  • where a drought order or drought permit authorises it
  • where the persons doing the work are Crown exempt
  • where structures and works are authorised by legislation (for example an act of Parliament)
  • where we serve a notice requiring impoundment only for the purpose of screening or passage for eels
  • works constructed by us or our behalf while carrying out our responsibilities within internal drainage districts
  • works needed in an emergency

You will not normally need an impoundment licence for low risk activities where there is little or no impact on flow or levels of water.

You must apply for a licence if you need one. If you obstruct or impede water without a licence, when one is needed, you are committing an offence and we may take enforcement action against you.

If you are not sure if you need a licence or which type you need, you can ask for pre-application advice.

Find out more about our pre-application advice service.

What to do before applying

Find out what you should do before applying for a licence.

Other consents and permits you may need

Whether you need an abstraction or impoundment licence or not, you may still need another type of permission for your proposal.

Formal fish pass

If you’re building a new impoundment or making changes to an existing impoundment on a river containing migratory fish and eels you may need to include a fish pass. We may be able to consider this as part of your application for an impoundment licence.

If you think you may need a formal fish pass approval contact us on 0300 065 3000 or enquiries@naturalresourceswales.gov.uk and we can advise you.

Flood risk activity permit

If you’re constructing or altering a structure, or working in or near a watercourse you are likely to need a flood risk activity permit or ordinary watercourse consent. For more information about flood risk activity permits see our Flood risk activities pages.

Reservoir registration

If you’re planning an impoundment that will create a reservoir able to hold at least 10,000 cubic metres above the natural level of any part of the surrounding land you must register your reservoir with us. For more information on reservoir safety and registering your reservoir see our Reservoir safety pages.

Other permissions you might need from us include; a protected species licence or an environmental permit for discharge to surface water or groundwater.

You should also contact your local planning authority to find out the type of planning permission you might need.

Abstracting in England

If your abstraction is in England you need to submit an application to the Environment Agency. Find out how to apply to the Environment Agency on Gov.uk.

 

Find out what to do before applying for an abstraction or impoundment licence

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