Preventing water pollution

Regulation that protects surface water and groundwater


Surface waters and groundwater are protected by a number of different regulatory controls. These protect water from pollution, prevent water sources from being depleted and control interferences with the natural flow of water.

You must apply for a discharge consent or groundwater authorisation if you want to discharge anything other than clean, uncontaminated water to surface waters or groundwater. Surface waters include rivers, loughs, reservoirs and canals. Groundwater includes all water below the water table.

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) can issue notices to businesses to control water pollution.

If your business activities pose an imminent threat to the environment, you must notify the relevant enforcing authority if the threat continues and take steps to prevent environmental damage. Where environmental damage has already occurred you must take action to remedy the damage.

You may need a trade effluent consent or agreement from Northern Ireland Water before you discharge trade effluent (liquid waste) into a public foul sewer.

You must have an abstraction licence from NIEA if you take certain quantities of water from surface waters or groundwater, or an impoundment licence if you impound (store or dam) water on an inland waterway.

You must make sure you store and use hazardous substances safely to avoid causing harm to human health or the environment.

If you have a farm in a nitrate vulnerable zone (NVZ) - an area designated as being at risk from agricultural nitrate pollution - you must comply with specific rules.

If you pollute water or carry out certain activities without the necessary authorisation you may be fined, or even sent to prison.