How to make your business more water efficient

Water use authorisations


You must have authorisation from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) to abstract water from:

  • surface waters such as rivers, lakes and wetlands
  • coastal waters, ie water within three nautical miles of land
  • transitional water, such as estuaries and water in the vicinity of river mouths
  • underground strata such as wells, boreholes and springs

You may also need authorisation from the NIEA if you own, operate, maintain or plan an impoundment, such as a reservoir, which is used to store water.

Apply for an abstraction authorisation

Abstracting less than 10 cubic metres (m³) of water a day with minimal risk to the environment is called a permitted controlled activity (PCA). You don't need to contact the NIEA, but you must:

  • be able to demonstrate the volume of water you abstract
  • minimise water leaks
  • prevent any contamination or pollution

If you take between 10m³ and 20m³ a day, you must notify NIEA and comply with PCA conditions.

If you abstract more than 20m³ you need an abstraction licence from NIEA. You will need a:

  • simple licence if you abstract between 20m³ and 100m³ of water per day
  • complex licence if you abstract more than 100m³ of water per day

Both licences may be subject to conditions such as the maximum rate at which you can abstract water and the maximum volume you can take in any day.

Apply for an impoundment authorisation

You can impound water without contacting the NIEA as long as your impoundment:

  • does not control the water level upstream
  • is not associated with an abstraction of water
  • does not create a difference in height of more than one metre between the upstream and downstream water surfaces

You will need an impoundment licence from the NIEA to impound water in all other circumstances.

NIEA can review, modify or remove a licence if the licence holder requests it, or to prevent significant or serious damage to the environment. You may also need to submit an environmental statement to NIEA before starting projects that use more than 200m³ of water per day, for example agricultural spray irrigation.

Find out how to apply for an abstraction or impoundment licence.

Practical water efficiency advice

You can download Invest NI's practical water efficiency guide for businesses (PDF, 957K).