New rules on water use and abstraction – don’t lose your previously exempt abstraction rights


Water abstraction rules have changed and most previously exempt activities cannot continue without an abstraction licence in place. Time is running short to secure a licence for previously exempt abstractions, which is why you need to apply now, in good time before the 31 December 2019 deadline.

If you abstract more than 20 cubic metres (4400 gallons) of water per day, and the activity for which you abstract was previously exempt from the need for an abstraction licence, you may lose your rights to continue with this activity unless you apply for a licence now.

The following forms of abstraction now require a licence:

  • All forms of irrigation, including trickle – even if you already have a licence for spray irrigation;
  • Abstractions within previously exempt geographical areas, which include parts of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and South Shropshire;
  • Transferring water by a navigation, harbour or conservancy authority;
  • Abstracting water into and between internal drainage districts;
  • Dewatering mines, quarries and engineering works;
  • Warping (abstraction of water containing silt for deposit onto agricultural land);
  • Abstractions for managed wetland systems and water level management plans, as well as Countryside Stewardship agreements with flooding/wetland options;
  • The majority of abstractions covered by Crown, visiting forces and the Ministry of Defence.

These changes to water abstraction rules will better protect the environment by helping to balance the needs of abstractors, while protecting scarce water supplies and the plants and animals that rely on them.

So what do you need to do?

Application forms and further information on how to apply are available at: https://consult.environment-agency.gov.uk/environment-and-business/removing-previouslyexempt-abstraction-activities/ .

The Environment Agency strongly encourage everyone affected to submit a valid abstraction licence application to them by the 31 December 2019 deadline, to secure their existing water needs.

It is important that applications are sent to the EA as soon as possible. By applying now it will allow time for them to check that they have all of the information needed for each application – known as making the application valid.
It can take up to 3 months to validate an application.

Failing to make a valid application on time means that you will miss the more favourable transitional arrangements provided by the new Regulations. These benefits allow you to have a licence based on evidence of recent past use (based on a time period of 2011 to 2017), as well as the inclusion of lighter touch restrictions on any licence issued, compared to usual restrictions.

This is a one-off opportunity and a highly valuable provision that cannot be retrospectively applied after the 31 December deadline. After then, all applications will be assessed on the basis of water availability which, in some parts of the country, rules out abstracting water in the summer months.

EA are committed to helping people who were previously exempt get their application forms completed and validated before the deadline closes. They have a free hotline and bookable appointment service to help with drafting applications or answering any questions you may have.
Call 03708 506 506 and ask for the ‘New Authorisations hotline’ or
email enquiries@environmentagency.gov.uk stating ‘New Authorisations’ in the email subject to find out more.

The EA may take enforcement action against those that do not have a ‘valid’ application after 31 December 2019, but continue to abstract water.
Continuing to abstract after this deadline, without submitting an application, will be unlawful. It is therefore important not to miss the deadline.

What is an abstraction?

An ‘abstraction’ means any water that is removed (taken or partially diverted) from a source of supply (for example a river, stream, ground or other watercourse) either by a pump, structure or other means. This also includes water transfers, whether the water is consumed in some way or not.

Water removed from a source of supply and returned (for example downstream) is also an abstraction (for example transfer through a water meadow system) and will also now require a licence.

If you are a householder, farmer or business taking water from a river, stream or ground (borehole), you firstly need to check if you abstract more than 20 cubic metres (m3) per day (or more than 4400 gallons per day). As a rough guide this is a similar amount to a medium sized milk tanker or equates to 260 baths a day. So, a single household is not likely to need a licence, unless it is part of a collection of houses on one borehole supply which may exceed 20m3 per day.

If you abstract/transfer less than 20m3 per day you do not need to apply for a licence.