What are water abstractions?

Water abstraction refers to the process of taking water from a natural resource such as a river, lake, spring or groundwater. The water is generally pumped, piped or diverted for use in agriculture or industry or for drinking water supply.


Sustainable water abstractions:

• Do not impact on other existing abstractions
• Leave provision for other future abstractions
• Do not impact on water use (e.g. for leisure use)
• Do not harm the water’s health and biodiversity

Our aim is to ensure all water abstractions in Ireland are – or will be made – sustainable.

Are water abstractions regulated?

The EPA keeps an up-to-date record of all water abstractions that are over 25,000 litres per day. This is a requirement of the EU Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC). Small private supplies do not have to register (e.g. domestic wells which typically abstract between 500-1,000 litres of water per day).

You can get more information on whether you need to register your abstraction (and how to do it) on our water abstraction registration page.

Why do water abstractions need to be regulated?

Large abstractions or many small abstractions, if not managed correctly, can reduce water levels to an unsustainable amount. This could mean that the water resource can no longer support the demand of people abstracting water or the needs of the wider water environment and species that also depend on the water. For example, pumping too much water from a lake may reduce the lake’s water levels and dry out the downstream river, which could kill fish migrating upstream to spawn or damage the habitat of other aquatic species and wildlife. The impact of over-abstractions is most observed during drought conditions.


Maintaining adequate water levels and flows protects our water resources and their ecological health. This is consistent with the achievement of the environmental objectives of the Water Framework Directive (WFD). Correct management of all our water abstractions ensures our water resources:

• Are sustainable for future supply
• Support biodiversity
• Are resilient to climate change

The EPA uses the information gathered in the abstraction register, along with information on water discharges, to assess the risk of over-abstraction on our natural water resources. In this way, we support the national management of water resources, ensuring they are protected now and into the future.