Commercial and domestic boreholes, water wells and geothermal heat systems

A Guide to New Authorisations – Geographically Exempt Areas

A Guide to New Authorisations – Geographically Exempt Areas

Certain parts of England and Wales have always been exempt from abstraction licensing no matter what the quantity of water or its use.  These areas were based on geography and are referred to as Geographically Exempt Areas. From the 1st of January 2018 the Geographically Exempt Areas lost their status and it is now a requirement that abstraction of more than 20m3/day of water needs a licence.

If you were abstracting prior to the 1st January 2018 then you fall into some special arrangements called the “Transition Arrangements”.  If you plan to abstract more water or started to abstract after the 1st January 2018 then you must apply for an abstraction licence following the conventional route.

Transition Arrangements

These are a special set of arrangements that allow abstraction to continue while an abstraction licence is being sorted out.  They only apply to abstractors operating before 1st January 2018 and only cover the quantities and rates of abstraction that can be justified between 1st January 2011 and 31st December 2017.

An application must be accepted as valid by the Environment Agency or Natural Resources Wales by 31st December 2019.  If the application is not accepted by that date then abstraction would have to stop and an application made following the conventional route.  This would take a minimum of 4 months, during which you couldn’t abstract.

To make sure that the application is validated in time we urge you to submit applications as soon as is practical and certainly no later than June 2019. We think that preparing the submission is a good autumn/winter job.

Making an Application

The Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales have been directed by government to take a “light touch, risk based” approach.  The Environment Agency have made it clear that this means they want simple applications and that they will ask for detail, if they need it, once they start determining the applications from January 2020.  Natural Resources Wales have a more complicated and lengthy application form and it seems that they require more detailed information as part of the initial application process.

Whether it’s a simple or more complicated process, there are key pieces of information that need to be submitted:

  • Quantities of water abstracted historically.
  • A site map showing where the water is abstracted, stored and used.
  • If abstracting from groundwater, a description of the site’s hydrogeological setting (simple conceptual model).

Collating Data

It has become clear that for many operations that there is little data on actual abstraction or that the data is not stored in an easily retrievable way.  This is, at the moment, the single biggest stumbling block.  However, this does not mean that you have no data.  There are several ways in which you can estimate pumped volumes.  In many cases this can be done by brain storming and obtaining relevant information that can be used to calculate volumes.  For example, pump running hours.  These could be estimated from known operational procedures (switch on/off times), pump service records, or hour clocks on generators.  Pump specification and duty curves will provide abstraction rates, or existing pumps can be “calibrated” by measuring the flow rate.  Flow measurement in channels may be appropriate as might direct flow measurement using strap on instruments.  Gathering data on what is happening today, may help in quantifying or calibrating what happened in the past, particularly if “not much has changed”.

In working out pumped volumes you are trying to fill in the table below:

MONTH 2011 2012 >>>>  2017 MAXIMUM

The number that you will be working with is the maximum volume in a month and the maximum annual volume, together with hourly/daily abstraction.

The site map need not be complicated, but it needs to show:

  • Where in the real world abstraction takes place, how water is transferred and stored and where it is
  • Where flow monitoring is or could be undertaken.

Application Submission

There are different forms for the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales.  Make sure you use the right one.

Submission is straight forward and applications will follow a standard process once received.  If you are not aware of how the abstraction licence application system works within the agencies then it is worth researching so that you are aware of the different parts of the system that can cause blockage and delay.

The Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales will gain experience as they go and may ask for clarification or additional information before they “validate” the application.  At this stage, the application is simply being validated.  The decision that is being made is “is the application form completed correctly and fully?” and “is there enough information for us [the Environment Agency or Natural Resources Wales] to take the application to the next stage?”

The second question is possibly where the two organisations differ.  The Environment Agency are looking for basic data at this stage, and may request more during determination (2020 – 2022) for more difficult sites.  Natural Resources Wales may require detailed information at this stage.  We still recommend submitting basic data and responding to requests for more, rather than overloading the system with unnecessary detailed information.

The Outcome

At some point the application will be validated.  At that point you may continue abstracting at a rate not exceeding the quantity of water that you have specified until your licence is issued, before the end of 2022.

New Water

If historically you have only abstracted modest quantities of water and you anticipate needing to abstract more you will need to make an application through the standard route.  The New Authorisations process does not cover that situation.

Other Abstractions & Other Uses

If your site has more than one abstraction it is important that your application covers all the abstraction points.  This does not mean that you have to make separate applications.  As long as the abstractions are from the same river or the same aquifer, then only one application is required.  If you have both river and groundwater abstractions, then separate applications will be needed for each source.  Abstractions from one source can be licensed for different uses on one licence.