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You need a licence from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) to abstract and/or impound water in Northern Ireland.

Abstraction is defined as the removal of water from the natural environment by mechanical means, pipe or any engineering structure or works. It applies to water removed or diverted permanently or temporarily, even if the aim is to transferring the water to another part of the natural environment.

Obtaining a licence does not give you legal rights to the water or access to land. This should be obtained prior to applying for the licence.

How to apply

Download an application form from the NIEA website. Applications can be made by individuals, registered companies or partnerships.

You need to apply with the following details and documents:

  • applicant’s name, address and position
  • size of the proposed daily abstraction and volume and frequency of the operation
  • whether it is a new or existing operation
  • source and location of the abstraction or impoundment
  • labelled map(s) showing all abstraction/impoundment points and, if applicable, the point where water is returned
  • a schematic for more complex applications
  • any other supporting information
  • an application fee

If your application is refused, you have the right to appeal within 28 days to the Water Appeals Commission.

All complete applications and licences will be kept on a public register.


You do not require a licence to abstract less than 10 cubic metres per day (2,200 gal/day) but you must comply with Permitted Controlled Activities (PCA) conditions.

You do not need a licence for abstracts between 10 and 20 cubic metres of water per day, however you must still complete the application form to notify NIEA, and comply with PCA conditions.

PCA conditions include ensuring:

  • a way to demonstrate the volume being abstracted
  • water leakage is kept to a minimum
  • groundwater is not contaminated particularly by drilling fluids
  • that when a borehole or a well is not in use it is sealed or managed to reduce the waste of water and prevent contamination

It is also acceptable for potable water to be used to test an aquifer.

You should contact NIEA before applying if you intend to: - install a hydro-electric power scheme - operate a fish farm or quarry - engage in irrigation - abstract volumes over 100 cubic metres per day

Fees and charges

A fee of £135 is payable for all applications to abstract and/or impound water of 20 cubic metres per day or more. There is no fee for applications to abstract between 10 and 20 cubic metres of water per day.

The fee must be submitted with your application form.

If you abstract more than 100 cubic metres of water per day, you must also pay an annual charge to be determined by NIEA. You will be invoiced each year in advance for the period 1 January to 31 December. This must be paid within 30 days of the invoice receipt.

There are reduced fees and exemptions for:

  • certain hydropower schemes
  • fish farms
  • abstractors operating on a seasonal basis
  • abstractions used in the event of a fire or fire training, nature conservation or biodiversity reasons and sustainable drainage schemes

To vary an existing licence you must complete a form and pay a fee of £30. Variations include modifications, transfers to another person, technical variations, or surrender of a licence.

Fines and penalties

You may be fined if you fail to obtain a licence when required, or comply with licence conditions.