Changes to Water Abstraction Licencing

Irrigation sprinkler head_12322

From 1st January 2018, the law around water abstraction licencing exemptions has changed and abstractions for certain purposes and within certain geographical areas will no longer be exempt from requiring an abstraction licence from Natural Resources Wales (NRW).  Most previously exempt abstractions over 20 cubic metres per day, including all types of irrigation, will require a licence. 

The application window for abstractors to apply for licences to bring exempt abstractions into licencing opened on 1st January 2018 and will close on 31st December 2019.  NRW recommend that applicants apply for a licence before September 2019 to allow a three month period to check, acknowledge and address any issues with the application.  NRW will then have a three year period to 31 December 2022 to determine the licence application during which time you can continue to abstract at the same quantities you abstracted between 1 January 2011 and 31 December 2017. 

NRWs Frequently Asked Questions

New authorisations are abstractions that were exempt until 31st December 2017 but under changes to legislation in 2017, now require a licence. There is a separate streamlined application process available for these previously exempt abstractions.

The changes apply to anyone who took water under an exemption from Jan 2011 to December 2017 and takes more than 20m3 (4,400 gallons) per 24 hours of water from a surface or ground water source.

There are number of activities no longer exempt but for the farming sector, the most relevant activities that now require a licence are;
• Any abstraction taking more than 20m3/day in a previously exempt geographical area. These covered a large proportion of North, West and South West Wales (see maps),
• All forms of irrigation (previously only spray irrigation required a licence),
• Warping (the abstraction of silt to fertilise agricultural land).
(The removal of the geographically exempt areas is expected to have the most impact on the agricultural sector).

If you take more than 20m3 (4,400 gallons) per day you will need to apply for an abstraction licence using the transitional licence application forms available on our website. The transitional licence application process is streamlined and will allow you to continue to abstract while we determine your licence, but you must submit a valid application by end of the application window of 31st December 2019. In order to allow the permitting team time to pick up any issues with we recommend that the applications are submitted by September 2019.

Applications must include;
• Evidence of how you have measured or calculated water usage e.g. meter readings, stock number, intake dimensions, irrigation plans.
• Evidence that you have abstracted in the qualifying period (1st January 2011 to 31st December 2017) e.g. dated photos of borehole being installed, stock records, pump records, maintenance receipts.
• Evidence of how the abstraction has taken place (e.g. diagram/schematic/photograph)
• Site map showing land ownership or evidence of right of access
• Site map showing location of abstraction point(s)
More detail is available in the ‘Check list for applicants’ and evidence guide available on NRW’s website.

Meter readings are the easiest way to work out and evidence how much water you take, but if you don’t have these then you can use industry guides to work out water usage based on stock or crop requirements. More details are available in the Evidence Guide available on NRWs website.

New, varied or renewed abstractions have a £135 application cost and annual fees may also be payable. Annual fees are based on several factors including volume, use and source. Contact the Water Resources Permitting Team (0300 065 3000) for more information on annual charges or the Abstraction Charges Scheme is available on the NRW website.

Not necessarily, it will depend on the sources and use of the water. Contact the Water Resources Permitting Team (0300 065 3000) for help and advice.

No, the New Authorisations licences will only cover the abstraction activity that took place during the 7 qualifying years January 2011 – December 2017). If you want to take more water or at a different time or for a longer duration, then you will need to apply for a standard licence. Any standard application will be in addition to your transitional licence application for the historic abstraction.

Contact the Water Resources Permitting Team (0300 065 3000) for more advice.

If you plan to start a previously exempt activity after January 2018 then this is a ‘planned abstraction’ and you will need to make a standard licence application and wait for a decision on that application (statuary timescales of 3 or 4 months) before you can start abstracting.

NRW will have 2 years (1st Jan 2020 – 31st December 2022) to determine NA licence applications, but until a decision has been made you can continue to take water at same quantities you abstracted between 1 January 2011 and 31 December 2017. The standard licence application process requires us to make a decision on your licence application within 3 – 4 months (depending on whether advertising is required). If you are submitting a NA application and a standard licence application, you can request that the NA application is considered for early determination. We will aim to accommodate requests to make a decision on transitional licence applications ahead of 31 December 2022 where there is justified reason for doing so. Contact the Water Resources Permitting Team (0300 065 3000) for more advice.

If you don’t apply for a licence you will lose the right to abstract water as you have done in the past. Abstracting without a licence is an offence and you may be subject to enforcement action.

You will need to apply according to political boundary. If your abstraction point(s), reaches or area is in Wales, you will need to apply to NRW, if it is in England then apply to the Environment Agency. If there are 2 points, one in Wales and one England then you will need to apply to both NRW and the EA. Information on the EA application process can be found at

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

See also...

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Last edited: 16:04 on May 28, 2019

Share this story:

© NFU Cymru 2019