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Quarry Dewatering – Abstraction Licence Applications

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Many quarries require dewatering to allow minerals to be extracted economically and safely.  Since the 1991 Water Resources Act, quarries have been exempt from the water abstraction regime, and have not required a license from regulators to dewater quarries and workings.  Soon, quarries will be required to apply for an abstraction license when dewatering.  Read on to find out how this will affect quarrying.

What is changing?

Essentially, quarry dewatering will no longer be an exempt activity. This regulatory change has been a long time in the making. The 2003 Water Act removed exemptions specified in the 1991 Water Resources Act.    The Government carried out a consultation in 2009 on implementing the abstraction sections of the 2003 Act, and carried out a further consultation in 2013 on reforming the water abstraction regime.

How will this affect the minerals sector?

Sites currently dewatering under an exemption will need to apply for an abstraction license through the Environment Agency (EA) or Natural Resources Wales (NRW).  This is in addition to any existing abstraction licences (for example, from boreholes) or discharge licenses.  Sites will require either a Transfer License (where water is transferred without use to another source such as a stream), or a Full License (where water is consumed during operations, e.g. dust suppression, mineral washing, welfare etc.).

The need to apply for a groundwater abstraction license may result in extra considerations for quarry operators.  Flow monitoring equipment may be required to complete abstraction returns, and licenses may be scrutinised to ensure they do not cause environmental harm.

When is this happening?

There will be a two year period between January 2018 and December 2019 where quarries will need to submit a transitional license application.  Following this two year period, any continuing dewatering without an transitional license will be considered unlawful.  The regulators will then review the applications over a three year period before determining to grant a license.

What should quarry operators do?

Quarry operators should be aware that the licensing system will be changing, and should consider where further monitoring of dewatering flows and volumes will be required.  Quarry operators should also be aware that within the next few years they will need to apply for a license to continue dewatering, even if the site has an existing groundwater abstraction licence.

Sites which are dewatering mainly rainwater will not need to apply for a license.  Companies can assess each of their sites based upon the nature of the dewatering, which will fall into one of three categories:

  • Clearly identified that dewatering is ‘wholly or mainly rainwater’ – no application required;
  • Unclear as to whether dewatering is ‘mainly’ groundwater or ‘mainly’ rainwater – further data will be necessary to determine assessment;
  • Clearly identified that dewatering is ‘wholly or mainly’ groundwater’ – application to EA or NRW is required.

An transitional license application form and supporting guidance note will be available in advance of 1 January 2018.  There can be no extension to the application period deadline of 31 December 2019. It is strongly recommended that you submit your application in good time before the transitional application period closes on 31 December 2019.

Hydrogeo can assist and provide guidance on applying for groundwater abstraction licenses for quarry dewatering.  We can act as agents for quarry operators, handling all elements of the license application. We can also negotiate potential solutions with the Regulatory Authority on your behalf in catchments which have been designated over licensed or over abstracted, or where there is the risk of an environmental impact.

Information and Guidance

Reforming the water abstraction management system – Government Consultation

Changes to water abstraction licensing exemptions FAQ – Natural Resources Wales

Apply for a water abstraction license – Environment Agency

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