Guidance

Water abstraction: flexible options in exceptional dry weather

You may be able to abstract outside the terms of your licence in a drought or prolonged dry weather event.

The Environment Agency may be able to give you permission to take water outside the terms of your licence if:

  • you need more water than you have on your abstraction licence
  • you cannot fill your storage reservoir because of drought or prolonged dry weather

The Environment Agency will only be able to do this if there will be no adverse effects on the environment or other water users.

Flexible options

The Environment Agency may be able to allow the following flexible options:

  • fast-tracked water rights trades
  • filling storage reservoirs outside the winter abstraction season
  • temporary changes to licences – for example, increasing abstraction
  • borrowing groundwater from future allocations

You will need to justify why you need the flexibility to abstract when you a make a request.

The Environment Agency will consider requests if you are:

  • finishing off crops already ‘in the ground’ in readiness for harvesting
  • wetting soils to enable harvesting
  • establishing seedlings or root stocks
  • refilling storage reservoirs to mitigate against future water shortages
  • safeguarding animal and human health and wellbeing
  • preventing environmental damage
  • operating critical infrastructure
  • experiencing significant impact on your business because of water shortages

Constraints on flexible options

The Environment Agency will only be able to allow flexible options where:

  • the water you need is available and there will be no effect on the environment or the rights of other water users
  • river flows are above any ‘hands off flow’ that is on your licence or which the Environment Agency may specify
  • you want to refill a winter storage reservoir in the summer months and you have water left on your licence that you have not taken during the winter months

Water rights trades

For water rights trades, you can only trade if the source from which you abstract water and the abstractor with whom you intend to trade water with, is hydrologically connected. Normally, they must be in the same river catchment or groundwater management unit. There may be some scope for trading between groundwater and surface water depending on the interaction between them. You may not be able to trade all the quantity on a licence if there is a risk that the trade could damage the environment.

Borrowing groundwater from future allocations

You must give the Environment Agency advanced notice if you want to borrow groundwater from future allocations. Ideally, you will do this before the start of the summer abstraction season. This is because these requests are likely to be difficult to assess and the Environment Agency will need more time to make a decision. If you do borrow water from future allocations, you will have less water to abstract the following year. This may affect the crops you can grow or increase the risk that you may run out of water in subsequent years. This may affect the crops you can grow or increase the risk that you may run out of water in subsequent years.

You must submit any groundwater proposal that requires test pumping through the normal application route. These cannot be fast tracked.

Abstraction charges

You may need to pay extra for any abstraction under flexible options. See our Abstraction Charges Scheme.

Check your abstraction licence

Check your licence before you contact the Environment Agency to ensure:

You can only apply to request flexible options during dry weather conditions. This is a temporary one off option.

You can view your abstraction licence details online using the Water resources licensing service. You cannot apply to flex abstraction licence conditions online.

How to apply for flexible options

You can contact the Environment Agency to discuss flexing abstraction conditions through:

  • your usual local area office contacts
  • our National Customer Contact Centre

General enquiries

National Customer Contact Centre
PO Box 544
Rotherham
S60 1BY

Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm

Published 13 June 2019