Skip to main content

The charity making life better by water

Water Abstraction Licensing - Managing the Flow

How does the Water Act 2003 impact on our work?

Water runs down a weir at Eshton Beck. A Canal & River Trust worker crouches in the wall in the background

The Water Act 2003 aims to increase environmental protection and ensure the sustainable use of water resources. Our waterways were always exempt from requiring abstraction licences (permission to take water from a water source) because of our status as a navigation authority, but from this year many surface water sources will be licensed.

Our Water Management team has spent the last few years applying for abstraction licences on 155 of our feeders, reservoir outflows, and pumps to ensure compliance with this legislation. Applications will be determined by the Environment Agency for England and Natural Resources Wales in Wales. Both these government bodies started reviewing these applications last year and will conclude their reviews at the end of 2022.

From April this year the Environment Agency began issuing the first batch of Trust licences. The licences apply to the flow control structures, mainly weirs and sluices, that are in place. They may also have conditions on the amount of water we can take, and when we can take it, in order to protect the environment. For example, in times of drought, we may be issued with a “hands off flow” order to stop all abstraction at a site. Because we have never had to stop flows before, this will be a new consideration in our work at the licensed sites. It may also become necessary to develop new sources of water, or improve our water efficiency in some places, to ensure that we can keep the waterways open throughout the year.

Last Edited: 05 July 2021

photo of a location on the canals
newsletter logo

Stay connected

Sign up to our monthly newsletter and be the first to hear about campaigns, upcoming events and fundraising inspiration