20 Sep Dewatering Exemptions: An Industry in Limbo?
We reported back in May of the upcoming removal of the exemption of quarry dewatering from abstraction licensing when these elements of the Water Act (2003) are implemented.
The quarrying industry will be greatly affected by the removal of these exemptions and, whilst not yet confirmed, indications from government suggest that the implementation date is getting closer. As very active members of the MPA Water Working Group, we have been monitoring progress carefully.
Once the enabling regulations are published, anyone abstracting more than 20 m3/d will have to apply for one of three types of licence:
- A temporary licence is required for abstractions of more than 20 m3/d that will last for less than 28 days
- A transfer licence is required to transfer water for more than 28 days from one source of supply to another without intervening use – for example, transferring water from an excavation to a watercourse.
- A full licence is required for any abstraction1 where water is used (e.g. for dust suppression or mineral washing).
The licences will be granted by the Environment Agency (in England) and Natural Resource Wales (in Wales).
The current proposals are that new licences could be applied for on the basis that they will be required in the future even if they are not required immediately. This would be reviewed by the EA/NRW every four years and, whilst there would be no need to reapply for the licence at the end of the period had it not been used, the operator would still need to prove that the licence would be used in the future. This is in contrast to existing licences where the EA/NRW would revoke these if they had not been used at the end of the four year period.
The current indications are that transfer licences will be generally limited by depth instead of volume, except where sites are in environmentally sensitive locations. Variations to cover future deepening can be applied for at the same time as the transfer licence for the current depth as long as there is supporting information relating to environmental impacts.
These changes bring significant risks and concerns resonate around the industry at present. Many operators, large and small, are now reviewing how their operations and sites are positioned in light of these changes.
Key issues include:
- Potential limitations on:
- the depth and/or extent of workings
- the timing of mineral extraction (e.g. seasonal flow restrictions, Hands-Off Flows 2)
- Overall costs associated with the whole process.
- Uncertainty over timeframes – it has been debated for many years and could still be put back further, after cabinet reshuffles, changes in priorities and, maybe, Brexit. This creates a site management limbo, meaning value or risk assessment of the site cannot be realised fully.
- Site data quality: This may lead to poor understanding of site water use. There could be an absence of water metering and general poor record keeping. Poor data could undermine the supporting case for the abstraction licence application.
- Site environmental sensitivity: Numerous factors could impact:
- Is the site on a high-risk aquifer (such as karst limestone)?
- Are there groundwater dependent conservation sites nearby?
- What is the water resource availability status?
- What is Water Framework Directive status of groundwater and surface water bodies?
- What Hands-Off Flow restrictions are likely to apply?
- Is a site dewatering at a high rate and will it need to increase in the future?
Separate to exemptions removal but an important related issue is the Potential clawback of abstraction under the requirements of the WFD “No Deterioration” requirements: This would only apply to existing licensed (consumptive) abstractions.
For more information on how we can help you with site analysis, monitoring and licence applications, contact us today
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Quarry operators need to be thinking now about these factors, the licencing changes and answers to some of these questions. You’ll need to think about the impact existing abstraction is having, especially on an environmentally sensitive site, the data you hold and how you are preparing your costs for 2017/18 budgets.
To assist with your plans, we are holding an essential webinar on dewatering exemptions in October, which will discuss the issues in more depth.