I have a plot of land very close to a spillway that has no hydroelectric attached to it and I'm considering discreetly attaching my own hydroelectric to it.

I understand that the piping work will be an act of vandalism and the working will be trespassing but I was wondering if there is a further law regarding the redirection of the water.

If I don't increase the flow from what would have been going over the spillway (although I would be reducing the amount going over the spillway) and the water is returned to the stream after energy extraction, are there any other regulations, beyond those broken for the sake of construction, that I would be in breach of?

I don't believe the project would count as abstraction of water because I'm not taking it.

It could be in breach of impoundment but I'm not really changing the flow.

  • 3
    You'll have to return the water further downhill (or you'll have no 'head'), so you'll be altering the way the water flows, and if that causes a different pattern of erosion (or silting) in the landowner's watercourse, that will be causing 'damage' to the property. Commented Feb 19, 2022 at 16:58
  • 4
    From a physics point of view, you are taking/stealing the kinetic and potential energy contained in the mass of water which you divert. You are, in fact, taking something and not returning it. OTOH, that energy is something which the owner is currently allowing to dissipate into the environment and/or transfer downstream.
    – Makyen
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 0:10
  • In the USA any project within the navigable waters would require a US Army Corps of Engineers permit. Maybe the UK has similar requirement?
    – GBG
    Commented Feb 22, 2022 at 20:22

1 Answer 1


I think you are very likely wrong in believing that if you return the water further downstream it doesn't count as illegal abstraction. Government guidance says:

If you want to build a new hydropower scheme, you need to apply to the Environment Agency for:

  • an abstraction licence - if you divert or take water from a river or watercourse

Admittedly, guidance isn't law. However, your position is quite close to arguing that taking and borrowing are two different things, and I wouldn't want to try to argue it.

  • Further, does anyone doubt that some combination of landowner and Environment Agency would find a way to charge you with abstracting electricity, rather as though you'd directly spliced your own cables onto a neighbour's power supply without using the water as an intermediate? Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 21:56
  • @RobbieGoodwin that is a really interesting idea
    – jhylands
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 11:01

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