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Transitional water abstraction licences

From 1st January 2018, most previously exempt abstractions (if over 20m³/day exemption threshold) will require a licence to continue legally abstracting water

Water abstraction is the process of taking water directly from surface water, such as rivers, or from ground water, such as boreholes.

If you take more than 20 cubic metres (4,400) gallons per day, then you need a licence from Natural Resources Wales.

Before 2018 a lot of water abstraction activity was exempt from the need for a licence. Regulatory changes now require previously exempt abstractors to apply.

There is a separate, streamlined application process available for those who abstracted water in the qualifying period between 1 January 2011 and 31 December 2017, and plan to continue to do so.

What happens if you don't apply

If you do not apply now:

  • you will not benefit from a temporary streamlined application process designed to make applications easier for applicants
  • you will lose your right to abstract water from 1st January 2020.

If you do not submit a valid application by 31st December 2019 and continue abstraction after this date, you will be committing a criminal offence and we may take enforcement action against you, including prosecution. Submitting your application before the end of September will allow us time to ensure your application is valid before the end of the year deadline.

How much will it cost?

The application fee will be either £135 or £1,500 depending on which type of licence (full or transfer) is appropriate for your abstraction activity.

Read more about the different types of licence.

Some applications may have to be advertised. If this applies to your application, you’ll need to pay a £100 administration fee plus the cost of the advert in the local newspaper.

Annual fees are also payable for full licences. These are based on several factors including:

  • the purpose the water is used for
  • the surface or groundwater source it is taken from

Please see Our Charges for further information or contact the Water Resources Permitting Team (0300 065 3000).

What you need to do

If you take more than 20m3 (4,400 gallons) per day from a water source, for a previously exempt activity, you’ll need to apply for an abstraction licence, sometimes called a ‘New Authorisation’ or ‘transitional licence’ by downloading the transitional licence application form.

Download the transitional licence guidance note for help with your application.

The transitional licence application process is a streamlined version of the full process and will allow you to continue abstracting while we determine your licence. We must receive and validate your application by the end of the transitional window on 31st December 2019 to take advantage of the streamlined process.

To allow us time to work with you to address any issues with your application, we strongly recommend that applications are submitted by September 2019 at the latest. If you haven't submitted a valid application by December 2019, you will need to reapply using the standard application process.

The transitional application process only applies if you abstracted water in the qualifying period between 1 January 2011 and 31 December 2017. If you need to abstract more water than you did in the qualifying period or you need to abstract from a different source, you will need to make an additional application using the standard application process.

Information you need to submit a valid application

Applications must include:

  • A completed and signed application form
  • Correct application fee
  • A site map showing land ownership or evidence of right of access in relation to abstraction location(s)
  • Evidence that you have abstracted in the qualifying period (1 January 2011 to 31 December 2017) eg dated photos of borehole being installed, stock records, pump records, maintenance receipts. Find more information on acceptable forms of evidence
  • Evidence of how you have measured or calculated water usage eg meter readings, stock number, intake dimensions, irrigation plans. Find more information on acceptable forms of evidence
  • Information of how the abstraction has taken place (eg a diagram or schematic or photograph)
  • Any other supporting information relevant to your application eg details of any planning permission or advice

Download a checklist of actions for transitional licence applicants

How to find out how much water you've abstracted?

Meter readings are the easiest way to work out and provide evidence on how much water you have taken. If you don’t have these then you can use alternative assessment methods, for example, industry guides to work out water usage based on stock or crop requirements.

Read more on Gov.uk about Optimum use of water

How long will it take to get a transitional licence?

We have three years (1 January 2020 – 31 December 2022) to determine transitional licence applications, but until a decision has been made on your application you can continue to take water in the same way as you have done between 1 January 2011 and 31 December 2017.

Which activities fall under the new regulations?

The following activities were previously exempt from licensing requirements but now require a licence:

  • Water transfers from one inland water to another in the case of, or as a result of, operations carried out by a navigation, harbour or conservancy authority
  • Abstractions into internal drainage districts but not including land drainage activities
  • Dewatering of mines, quarries and engineering works
  • Warping (abstraction of water containing silt for deposit onto agricultural land as a fertiliser)
  • All forms of irrigation (except for spray irrigation which is already licensable) and the use of land drainage systems in reverse (including transfers into managed wetland systems) to maintain field water levels
  • The majority of abstractions by Crown and visiting forces exemptions
  • Abstractions within previously geographically exempt groundwater and surface water areas

Which activities are still exempt from licensing requirements

Some abstractions that are considered low risk will remain exempt:

  • Transfers downstream of the normal tidal limit by navigation, harbour and conservancy authorities, other than in the hour before or after low tide
  • Abstraction in connection with dredging operations authorised by an authority in relation to those waters upstream of the normal tidal limit and any abstraction downstream of the normal tidal limit
  • Abstraction of water within managed wetland systems (subject to the main abstraction into the system being licensed) and impounding works solely for the management, operation or maintenance of water within managed wetland systems
  • Impounding works constructed by or on behalf of Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs) to exercise their functions within their appointed area
  • Dewatering of underground strata and abstractions of surface waters to prevent interference with building or engineering works where the abstraction lasts less than six consecutive months (subject to restrictions)
  • Third-party operated dry docks that transfer water to and from a navigation authority’s water system
  • Impounding works when required in an emergency
  • Emergency abstraction or impounding where undertaken by port, harbour or conservancy authorities

Read more about when you need a water abstraction licence

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