Quarry dewatering – removal of licensing exemptions

Dewatering is often undertaken at quarries to allow mineral to be extracted economically and safely. Since the Water Resources Act (1991), quarries have been exempt from the need for an abstraction licence to undertake dewatering. However, following the implementation of parts of the Water Act (2003) in January 2018, quarries will now be required to apply for an abstraction licence when dewatering.

Why are the exemptions being removed?

Water resources are under increasing pressures from abstraction. It is the role of the Regulator to ensure that these finite resources are shared equitably between environmental/ecological needs and those of abstractors. Therefore, if the total volume of water being abstracted from a particular source is not known, it cannot be fairly managed.

The need for a licence to dewater will be in addition to any existing full abstraction licences, where more than 20 cubic metres of water are abstracted and used on site, for example for mineral processing or dust suppression. A Permit for discharge of excess water to ground or local watercourse will also still be required.

What happens to sites currently dewatering?

Sites currently dewatering under an exemption have two years from January 2018 to apply for a water abstraction licence from the Environment Agency (EA) or Natural Resources Wales (NRW) under transitional procedures. A licence to abstract more than 20 cubic metres of water from one source and transfer it to another without intervening use is called a Transfer Licence.

There will be a two year window between January 2018 and December 2019 within which time quarry operators need to submit a licence application. This transitional process requires a different set of Application forms to a new transfer licence, which is needed for sites that were not dewatering prior to 1st January 2018, were dormant for the past 7 years or for extensions where dewatering rates will increase.

Act Now

As this is a new process for both the minerals industry and the EA/NRW we recommend that the application process is started as soon as possible. At the end of the two year window, Regulators will review the applications over a three year period before determining whether to grant a licence.

Operators that have applied for a transfer licence can continue to dewater at the current rate until such time as their application is determined. However, sites that continue to dewater without a transfer licence (or having submitted an application) after the two year transitional period will be considered unlawful.

What information do you need for a transitional Transfer Licence application?

It will be necessary to demonstrate that the volumes applied for have been used over the preceding 7 years and show how this water is moved around the site.

Evidence of volumes abstracted may take the form of flow monitoring records, invoices for pumping equipment, photographs of infrastructure, receipts/contracts.

A schematic will be required to show how water is transferred around the site and/or used on-site prior to excess water being discharged.

What information is needed for a new Transfer Licence application?

It will still be necessary to justify the volume of dewatering abstraction that is being applied for. This is likely to take the form of calculations based on known mineral permeabilities and saturated thickness. A simple schematic diagram showing how water will be used and transferred across the site will also still be required.

Unless the environmental impacts of dewatering have been considered in a recent Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) or ROMP, it is likely that the application will also need to be supported by a water features survey and an assessment of impact, in similar detail to that needed for an EIA.

Sites where rainwater contributes to dewatering volumes

For some sites rainwater makes up a large proportion of the water that needs to be pumped from the quarry void. Such sites tend to be in low permeability deposits such as clays/ mudstones and some hard rock deposits. Such sites may not need to apply for a Transfer licence. However, an assessment will need to be undertaken by the operator to determine if:

  • the dewatering is ‘wholly or mainly rainwater’ – no application required;

  • it is uncertain if dewatering is ‘mainly’ groundwater or ‘mainly’ rainwater – further data collection and assessment will be necessary to determine if licence is needed or not;

  • the dewatering is ‘wholly or mainly’ groundwater – application to EA or NRW is required.

Our Dewatering Services

The Mineral Products Association (MPA) has been working over the last 18 months on behalf of its members to steer the transitional process to one that can be readily implemented. As a member of the Water Group of the MPA Hafren Water has been part of this process. We have also delivered presentations to Regional Groups of the MPA to help operators prepare for the application process and held discussions with leaders in the EA who are heading up the transitional process.

Through this involvement we are very aware of the potential difficulties with applying for either new or transitional Transfer Licence Applications. We are currently working on preparation of application forms for numerous sites and this process is already highlighting the fact that no two quarries are the same and that careful, thorough preparation and liaison with the EA/NRW are key to a smooth application process.

An extension to the transitional application period beyond 31st December 2019 will not be permitted. We therefore strongly recommend that you submit your application at the earliest opportunity before the transitional application period closes on 31st December 2019.

main contacts

Chris Leake BSc MSc FGS
Principal Hydrogeologist
Tel. 01743 355770

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