Hydrogeology of Wales: Management and regulation of groundwater

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This page is part of a category of pages that provides an updated review of the occurrence of groundwater throughout Wales.
Author(s): N S Robins and J Davies, British Geological Survey
Contributor(s): D A Jones, Natural Resources Wales and G Farr, British Geological Survey
The abstraction licence exempt are (as at 2012). P859287.


Groundwater sources have been important drinking-water supplies to communities across Wales for many centuries. The location of settlements with easy access to groundwater resources is no coincidence and historic springs can be seen at the centre of towns and villages.

Prior to the implementation of the Water Resource Act, 1963 groundwater and surface water sources were typically managed by local water boards and district councils, which totalled over twenty in Wales in the early 20th century. This localised approach did allow co-ordination of resources even on a catchment scale. The Water Resources Act, 1963 recognised the importance of water resource planning and also introduced the abstraction licensing system. Water resources in Wales were managed by the Wye, Usk, Glamorgan, South-west Wales, Gwynedd, Dee and Clwyd and Severn river authorities. Due to the low-yielding nature of the aquifers across west, mid and north-west Wales these areas were subsequently designated in the late 1960s via Statutory Instrument, as exempt from groundwater abstraction licensing (Figure P859287).

The subsequent Water Act, 1973 abolished the Water Resource Board and river authorities and combined their functions into regional water authorities, defined by catchment boundaries and responsible for the supply of drinking water, sewerage, water quality and pollution prevention. Regulation of groundwater in Wales was the responsibility of the Welsh National Water Development Authority (renamed Welsh Water Authority in 1977) and the Severn Trent Water Authority.

The Water Act, 1989 enacted the privatisation of the regional water authorities, creating water supply and sewage treatment utility companies. Their regulatory functions passed to a new organisation, the National Rivers Authority, the detailed functions of which were set out in the Water Resource Act, 1991. The Welsh Water Authority became Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water and is the principal supplier of drinking water and sewerage. Severn Trent provides the same function in the Severn Valley corridor in mid-Wales, with Dee Valley Water providing drinking water within the River Dee corridor in north-east Wales.

TheEnvironment Act, 1995resulted in the formation of a statutory body, Environment Agency Wales, responsible for the management and protection of groundwater in Wales. On the 1st April 2013 a new regulatory body called Natural Resources Wales for formed combining the roles of Environment Agency Wales, Countryside Council for Wales and the Forestry Commission Wales.

Hydrogeology of Wales - contents