Surface water abstraction refers to any activity that involves taking or redirecting water from a surface water source (for example a river, lake, stream or canal), whilst an impoundment is a manmade structure situated on inland waters that can change the water level or flow (such as a dam or a weir).

If you plan to abstract or impound water, you may be required to apply for an abstraction or impoundment licence.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, most businesses taking (abstracting) more than 20,000 litres of water a day directly from surface waters (or groundwater) require an abstraction licence from the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales or the Northern Ireland Environment Agency respectively, although there are some exemptions.

In Scotland, an abstraction licence is required from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) if you are abstracting more than 50,000 litres of water a day, and there are other requirements for smaller amounts. In the Republic of Ireland, abstractions of 25,000 litres of water or more per day must be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The relevant regulator will assess any application to abstract against the availability of water locally before it will be approved, and the potential for any impact on the environment will also be considered.

Water abstraction management reform

In England, the government set out plans to reform water abstraction management over the coming years in its Water Abstraction Plan (2017) with a view to protecting the environment and improving access to water. One element of this plan is to address unsustainable abstraction.

To achieve this, the Environment Agency has committed to reviewing and adjusting time-limited licences and regulating abstractions that have been exempt historically to make sure that they do not cause environmental damage. There are also plans to move abstraction and impounding regulations into the Environmental Permitting Regulations (EPR) which are due for consultation in 2021.

Applying for a licence

The regulator should be contacted early in the process. Often it is necessary for an application form to be submitted with supporting information. This may include environmental assessments and data.

The regulator can advise on what supporting information may be required based on your location and local factors such as the sensitivity of the surface water environment and/or if there are management plans in place.

How APEM can help

APEM have a long track-record of supporting clients with applications for new licences or renewing time-limited licences by developing supporting environmental assessments underpinned by robust environmental evidence, data, and management plans.

We also help clients consider the effects of existing abstraction licences where the regulator has identified that they are potentially unsustainable or environmentally damaging.

Our experts advise on the environmental impacts of applications for new licences. We also review existing and time-limited licences. As well as impact assessments, options appraisal, cost benefit analysis and cost effectiveness assessments, APEM have led on development of environmental monitoring plans (pre and post implementation) and adaptive management plans for abstractions and impoundments.

Our integrated, evidence-led approach has helped our clients effectively balance their need for water with the needs of the environment and local communities.

We place emphasis on stakeholder engagement to ensure that everyone’s needs are accounted for. Building good relationships with regulators ensures that outputs meet requirements and can be signed-off confidently and rapidly.

Canals and abstraction licencing

As part of abstraction reform in England, a number of abstractions that were previously classed as ‘exempt activities’ (such as transfer of water by a navigation authority) now require an abstraction licence.

Our specialists have experience in assessing the environmental impacts and risks of water transfers, including within canal environments. We have developed literature reviews, gap analysis assessments and monitoring programmes for a number of large-scale strategic transfer schemes.

Specialist techniques APEM offer for the monitoring of ecology in navigable waterways include:

  • Use of chironomid pupal exuvial technique (CPET) – an indicator of water quality and general biological quality in navigable waterways
  • Canal PSYM techniques (an officially recognised version of the pond survey for the canal environment, assessing water quality, plants, and invertebrates)
  • Tailored fish survey techniques and eDNA surveys, developed in consultation with regulators, for the canal environment
  • eDNA survey design for still and flowing water environments

If you have any queries, please contact Hannah Austin, Associate Director.
Alternatively you can email us here. Or call 0161 442 8938.