News article created on 14 July 2017

Going with the flow

This summer, let’s help keep our canals flowing by being careful not to waste water whilst boating.

Boats in the locks at Stoke Bruerne Boats in the locks at Stoke Bruerne

Competing demands for water or a lack of water have dogged the canals from the very beginning of the canal age.

“Most canals are distressed for want of water, because either they are above the springs, or they are not permitted to derive a supply from mill streams.” Wrote an early canal commentator.*

Whether it was millers arguing with the proprietors of the canals over routes and water back in the 18th and 19th Centuries, to the lawyers who drafted the Canal Bylaws regarding the operation of locks, to the engineers who developed ingenious water saving side-ponds, everyone associated with the canal and river network has been concerned to avoid a lack of water in the cut.

Just add water

From the earliest days of “Canal Mania”, the number of boats using the canal increased beyond what had initially been envisaged by many of the canal’s engineers, requiring improvements to be made to cope with demand until commercial traffic reached its terminal decline after the Second World War. Examples of water supply improvements include the building of more reservoirs to cope with traffic over the Tring Summit on the Grand Union Canal and the installation of back-pumping at lock flights during the drought of 1934. 

A precious resource

The long-range forecast for the next couple of months looks dry so if we want to be boating all summer long, as ever we’d better look after the water. With more boats on the network than during the height of the industrial revolution, all boaters need to work together to save water. If you’ve been on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal recently you will be aware of  the THRIFT code which sets out some simple steps that boaters should follow for everyone’s benefit.


  • Two in a Lock? - Share locks
  • Help keep it in – Make sure gates and paddles are shut
  • Report any leaks – tell us
  • Invite oncoming boats through – Don’t empty or fill locks if someone else can make use of the water
  • Find another favourite – Explore less busy parts of the network
  • Think ahead – Plan cruises to minimise use of locks

Although we’ve only issued the THRIFT code on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal it’s also worth remembering as good boating practice wherever you are on the network.

Let’s keep our canals flowing this summer for everyone to enjoy. To find out more about how we manage our water and the status of our reservoirs visit our dedicated water management pages.

Save Water in Locks infographic Save Water Infographic

* Footnote

'Most canals are distressed for want of water, because either they are above the springs, or they are not permitted to derive a supply from mill streams.'

William Smith; On the Utility, Structure and Management of Canals; by Joseph Townsend: published in "The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure, Vol. XX, July-Dec 1813" and referenced from this wonderful canal history website if you fancy a more indepth read.

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The boating team

Find out what the Canal & River Trust's boating team have been up to.

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