Water abstraction licences for previously exempt activities

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.

Applications for water abstractions that were previously exempt from the need for a licence

Since 1 January 2018, most previously exempt water abstractions (if over 20m³/day) require a licence to continue legally abstracting water.

Between 1 January 2017 and 31 December 2019, we offered a simpler transitional application process for those who previously didn’t need a licence.

The deadline for submitting transitional water resources licence applications for previously exempt activities was 31 December 2019.

We are no longer accepting transitional water resources licence applications for previously exempt activities.

If you did not submit a transitional 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.

If you wish to continue to abstract water, you will need to apply for a licence under our standard application process.

For further information please see our Water abstraction and impoundment licences web page.

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