Changes to water abstraction licensing exemptions in England and Wales: New Authorisations

Closed 8 Apr 2016

Opened 15 Jan 2016


We invite your views on proposed changes to water abstraction licensing exemptions in England and Wales. Defra, the Welsh Government, the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales are consulting jointly on our intended approach to remove most exemptions from water abstraction licensing and bring these abstractions under licensing control (New Authorisations).

Water abstraction is the process of taking water directly from surface water, such as rivers, or ground water. Abstraction can have significant impacts on the water body and the environment it supports. This is why most abstractions are licensed. However, as the water abstraction licensing system in England and Wales has developed over the past 50 years certain abstractions have remained exempt from licensing control and legally able to take an unlimited supply of water, even in areas that are water stressed.

We plan to take a light-touch, risk based approach to bring the majority of exempt abstractors into the licensing system to help balance the needs of all abstractors and the environment. This will enable the Regulators to better manage water at catchment level and is part of a much wider effort to manage our water resources in a sustainable way, now and for future generations. We propose to begin bringing New Authorisations into the licensing system in 2016. Some abstractions that are considered low risk will remain exempt.

The main activities that will be impacted by the changes include:

  • transferring water from one inland water system to another by a navigation, harbour or conservancy authority;
  • abstraction of water into internal drainage districts;
  • dewatering mines, quarries and engineering works;
  • warping;
  • all forms of irrigation (other than 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;
  • geographically exempt areas; and
  • the majority of abstractions covered by Crown and visiting forces exemptions.


Why your views matter


UK and Welsh Governments originally consulted in 2009 on implementing the abstraction elements of the Water Act 2003. While responses were largely supportive they also highlighted some complex issues which we have since worked to address. Part I of this current consultation document contains our response to the 2009 consultation. In Part II of the document we explain our revised proposal and seek views on the remaining questions around:

  • the small scale dewatering exemption period;
  • our revised approach to planned abstractions;
  • evidence requirements for the license application;
  • the inclusion of hands off flow conditions on the licences;
  • transfer licence volumes;
  • compensation funding; and
  • general comments on the proposals.


The consultation will be of interest to both existing licensed abstractors and currently exempt abstractors. We encourage you to share this consultation widely with other individuals and organisations who will be interested in the changes.

The consultation questions are listed in the consultation document and in the online survey. Please read the consultation document and click on the 'respond to the consultation' link below to take part in the online survey. Alternatively, you can get in touch by email with your response or any queries at either or


What happens next

The consultation has now closed. Thank you for your participation.

We published a summary of responses received on and on 29 September 2016.

We expect to publish a Government response by early 2017.


  • Charities/Voluntary Organisations
  • Environmental campaigners
  • Food Industry
  • Government Departments
  • Government Agencies
  • Devolved Administrations
  • Coastal local authorities
  • National Park Authorities
  • Recreation sector
  • Energy sector
  • Industries and professional services
  • Ports and Harbour Authorities and Estuaries
  • Water/water Industry sector
  • Water Abstractors
  • House Building Industry
  • Local Authorities
  • Farmers
  • Water suppliers
  • Leisure industry
  • Horticulture Industry
  • Public Bodies


  • Natural environment
  • Water quality
  • Water Bill
  • Water conservation
  • Local environments
  • Conservation
  • Water Abstraction
  • Inland waterways
  • Construction
  • Watercourse maintenance
  • Water Act
  • Marine Conservation
  • Land management
  • Inland waterways