When the canals were first built over 200 years ago, finding a reliable water supply to ensure that freight could be transported around the country was critical to the success of those early canal companies.
Nowadays, even though boating on the canals is mainly for recreation, the same challenges still exist. This is because every time a boat passes through a lock, thousands of litres of water are used. Also, water evaporates from the canals during warm and sunny weather, meaning that we need to regularly top up the water levels to meet these demands otherwise boats would run aground.
Supplies of water come from a network of reservoirs, rivers and streams, as well as being pumped from underground. We have a network of pumping stations at key locations to allow us to pump water back up lock flights.
The diagram below illustrates these supplies and demands:
To ensure the right balance between supply and demand for water, we need to carefully monitor, model and manage the water resources across the 2,000 miles of canals and rivers we look after.
Every day, we monitor the canals. Using the latest technology and a bespoke system designed by the Canal & River Trust. We have over 600 monitoring stations located at strategic points in the canals, rivers and reservoirs.
These sites record anything from canal, river, reservoir and groundwater levels, water flows, pump rates as well as lock usage in real time.
We can look at the information provided from these stations via the internet and the mobile phone network, allowing an instant reaction to any situation. This can include high water levels during flood events as well as low water levels in the summer months. The system can sense a drop in water levels, send an alert to operational staff and indicate a possible problem.
Every week we record how much water is stored in our reservoirs and this helps us to decide which reservoirs to use. We share this information around the middle of each month in a report called Reservoir Watch. Why not take a look at the latest Reservoir Watch to see how our reservoirs are doing?
Every hour we record how many lockages occur throughout our canals and rivers at over 150 locks and this helps us see how busy our locks are and how much water we need to supply to them. We collate this information into an Annual Lockage Report which we share every January. Why not download the latest Annual Lockage Report to see which lock near you is the busiest?
Twice-yearly we provide a report summarising the overall water resources situation across the canals and rivers. The spring report explains how well reservoirs have refilled and the prospects for the main boating season. The autumn report looks back at reservoir use and boating patterns. Why not take a look?
We use the information from our monitoring stations, along with historical rainfall data from the Met Office going back nearly 100 years to run computer simulation models of the canals and rivers.
These help us understand possible future changes in water supplies and demands, such as the effect of a new marina or climate change. The models are also used to guide our day to day decision making on which sources of water are the best ones for us to use.
We combine the monitoring and modelling information to manage the water wisely. This can be to ensure water levels are kept topped up from day to day, but also allow us to plan effectively for the future.
This future planning is shown in our new Water Resources Strategy, setting out our aspirations for the next five years, but looking as far ahead as 2050 to understand the longer term pressures and challenges on water supply and use.
The team is made up of water experts who undertake monitoring, modelling and management of the canals and rivers to try and ensure that we have just the right amount of water. There are eight hydrologists, two modellers, one hydrometric assistant and eight engineers.
Together we work hard on a day to day basis to keep the canals topped up, although this can be extremely difficult in times of drought or flood.
Last date edited: 2 February 2017