Changes in the regulatory framework for abstraction and impoundment licensing - move to Environmental Permitting Regulations

Closed 7 Sep 2021

Opened 27 Sep 2019


Update September 2021

It is anticipated that the consultation for abstraction and impounding licensing moving into the Environmental Permitting Regulations will be released later in September 2021 on Defra’s Citizens space page. Any questions or queries regarding the consultation can be sent to


Coronavirus Update (1st July):

A response to Coronavirus (Covid-19)

The Minister has made the decision to delay the consultation for and implementation of abstraction and impounding licensing moving into the Environmental Permitting Regulations.

Therefore Defra currently plan to consult in September 2021 with a view to implementation of the EPR in 2023. In the interim we will continue to make available to you all of the necessary information to keep you informed of any key developments.



We have created this page to provide easy access to information on the move of abstraction and impoundment licensing into the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2016 (EPR) regime. We will be adding more documents onto this site so please keep checking back for what’s new.

At present, the abstraction and impoundment of water is authorised through the granting of licences by the Environment Agency. Government intends to move the regulation of abstraction and impoundment of water from the Water Resources Act 1991 into the EPR. Within the EPR, the main authorisation for activities are called permits. Therefore, after the move has taken place, permits instead of licences will be granted for the abstraction and impoundment of water.


In December 2017, Defra and the Environment Agency published the Water Abstraction Plan. The plan aims to address unsustainable abstraction, to develop stronger catchment focus and to modernise the abstraction regime.

The Water Abstraction Plan outlines options to modernise the regulation of water abstraction and impoundment licensing, including moving water resources into the EPR. This regulatory regime aims to adequately protect the environment as well as abstractors, and to be flexible enough to respond to changing circumstances.

What is happening?

Some of the fundamental principles of the current abstraction regime are specific to water resources legislation and are not found in the EPR. We are exploring how we can use common environmental permitting provisions included in other regimes to deliver outcomes for water resources.

The approach we are following is similar to that of a house move. Just as you would ensure that the cooker ends up in the kitchen, we need to ensure that the principles relating to licence variations for example, end up in the right part of the EPR. Therefore, we have been mapping the relevant water resources legislation over to the EPR and now need to consider how to modify them with the current abstraction and impoundment regime in mind.

Defra currently plan to consult in September 2021 with a view to migrate the regulation of abstraction and impoundment licensing into the EPR regime in 2023.

What are the benefits of the change?

The move into the EPR will rationalise and unify regulations to allow for all environmental permissions to fit under one legal framework. This will be especially advantageous to the growing number of our customers who hold more than one environmental permit and conduct multiple activities on the same site.

The move will provide regulatory consistency as it will ensure that all environmental permits use the same language, format and processes. It will also offer the opportunity to modernise the existing abstraction and impoundment processes, including increasing the use of digital services (such as electronic permits), focusing our regulatory efforts on a risk based approach and streamlining where possible.

What will happen to your licence?

On day one of the EPR going live, we propose there will be no changes to your existing licence – it will simply become a permit. We plan not to re-issue any documents on transition; an existing licence document will become a permit; it will still be lawful and will authorise abstraction or impoundment. The existing conditions within a licence will remain as they are. We propose that any new application (including renewals for time limited licences), will be determined under the new regulations and will be issued as an environmental permit. A change to a previously existing licence that has become a permit under the EPR will only happen if a licence is varied.

What do you need to do?

Defra currently plan to carry out a formal consultation in 2021 where you will be able to provide any feedback on the proposed approach. The consultation will be published online and you can share your views on the proposals via the consultation. We are already actively engaging with our external advisory group to ensure all aspects of water resources licensing are captured. Licence holders and other stakeholders will be contacted to inform them of the consultation and how to take part. They will also be contacted when any changes are coming in.


  • Recreational and commercial river users
  • Fishing clubs and representative associations
  • Members of the public with an interest in the river, the species and conservation
  • Businesses
  • Charities
  • Statutory organisations
  • NGOs
  • Elected representatives, including MPs
  • Local councils
  • The nuclear industry
  • All water abstractors
  • Environment Agency customers
  • River based salmon angling owners/fishing clubs/organisations
  • Individual migratory salmonid licence holders
  • Angling trade contacts
  • National based fishery, conservation and landowner organisations
  • Government family organisations
  • IDBs
  • Local authorities
  • District and parish councils
  • Environmental bodies
  • Land owners
  • Farming associations
  • Drainage associations
  • RFCCs
  • Elected representatives, including MPs
  • Water companies
  • Trade associations and business
  • Non-governmental organisations with an interest in environmental issues
  • Environment Agency colleagues
  • Lead Local Flood Authorities
  • Local Risk Management Authorities
  • Town and parish councils
  • Regional Flood and Coastal Committees
  • Internal Drainage Boards


  • Business and industry
  • Fishing and boating
  • Water resources
  • Drought
  • Habitats and wildlife
  • Permits
  • Environmental permitting