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Water resources authorisations

We are now able to accept pre-application proposals, new applications, variations, transfers and surrenders covering abstractionsimpoundments and hydro schemes.

We would strongly encourage pre-application enquiries prior to submitting applications.

What should you do now?

Email application forms along with supporting information to

Email pre-application proposal and supporting information to

Submit enquiries about General Binding Rules, existing authorised sites and maintenance via our online form: Contact us


An impoundment is any dam, weir or other structure that can raise the water level of a water body above its natural level.

The uses of impoundments include:

  • the creation of a new reservoir;
  • flood storage;
  • maintaining or raising water levels within a wetland;
  • raising the water level of a natural loch, estuary or even coastal waters.

‘On-line’ impoundments hold back water in wetlands, rivers, lochs and estuaries, and consequently affect downstream flows, sediment transport and migration of fish.

‘Off-line’ impoundments are built on land to store water (including surface run-off, groundwater or land drainage).

Typically, an impoundment is regarded as ‘off-line’ if there is no river/estuary flowing in.

Impoundments are regulated by the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 (CAR) and their amendments.

Why do impoundments have to be regulated?

The management of water resources involves ensuring that river flows, loch and groundwater levels can sustain aquatic environments, while also allowing the use of water for safe drinking, renewable energy developments and other agricultural and industrial purposes.

Do the regulations apply to me?

The level of authorisation required is dependent on the effect that the activity will have on the water environment:

  • General binding rule (GBR) – impoundment activities that are considered of low risk to the environment are covered by a GBR. You will not have to contact us or incur any charges, although you will have to follow a set of rules.
  • Registration – there are no applicable registrations for impoundment activities.
  • Licence – impoundments that pose a moderate to high risk of environmental damage will either need a simple licence or – for activities that need a more complicated environmental assessment – a complex licence. A licence depends on the identification of a ‘responsible person’, who must ensure compliance with the conditions of the licence. In both cases, an application charge will apply and the activity may also be subject to an annual subsistence charge.

If you own or operate any of the following, you will require some form of authorisation from us:

  • Engineering aspects involved in the construction or alteration of a dam, weir or other works impounding water.
  • Management of a dam, weir or raised loch – particularly in terms of water levels, downstream flows and fish passage.
  • Off-line flood storage that collects water during flood conditions and then releases this water when river levels fall (though this requires authorisation under the engineering regime – see section 6 of the CAR practical guide).

We do not regulate impoundments:

  • that receive their inflow from an authorised abstraction, including:

a) pond/impoundments constructed by farmers to hold water for irrigation purposes

b) firewater ponds/impoundments used by industry that form part of an artificial treatment system or in canals and lades which hold back flows within the canal or lade, including canal locks.

What do I need to do?

Find out if your activity requires authorisation

Read the relevant chapter in our CAR practical guide to discover whether or not your activity is subject to regulation:

Determine the cost of your application

Our charging scheme guidance will advise on the estimated cost of the application and help find out whether a subsistence (annual) fee applies. 

Some abstractions elements of your authorisation may be eligible for a temporary exemption.

A full list of all activities that do not require a charge can be found in Annex II of our charging scheme guidance.

Complete your application form before returning it to us either by email or by post

We have 30 days to assess an application for registration and four months for a licence.

During this time, we can ask for more information from the applicant, request that they advertise their proposals publicly or make provision for public consultation and feedback. If this is necessary, the response time period is paused.

Applying for a licence

You will need to send an application either by email ot by post if you require a either a simple or a complex licence.

The consolidated CAR licence applicant guidance provides all available guidance and information on the application process.

You need to complete two application forms:

  • A universal application form that asks for general information about your activity or activities – our guidance will provide you with help and advice on completing the form.
  • A specific application for abstraction and impoundment activities which provides us with more detailed information about your activity or activities – our guidance will provide you with help and advice on completing the form.

Please complete the forms and return them to us by post to the SEPA Registry address detailed on the form.

Making a change to an existing licence

Compliance with regulations

Regulations and licences authorised under CAR are regulated by our compliance assessment scheme.

Operators are expected to uphold the conditions of their licence and we have powers to withdraw your authorisation if you fail to meet its conditions.

Even after an authorisation has been granted, we can, if necessary, move activities between from GBR to licences in order to protect the water environment.

If you do not agree with the conditions and requirements imposed by a CAR authorisation or notice, you can make an appeal directly to the Scottish Government. The submission of an appeal does not suspend the operations of all authorisations or notices and its conditions.

Help, advice and more information

If you require any further help or advice at any stage during the application process, please contact us.