It's been busy, and exceptionally dry, since the last edition. Below you'll be able to find out what measures we're taking to conserve water and how one maintenance team, 40 years ago, did quite the opposite by accidentally pulling the plug on a canal. Yes, literally. Of course, there's the usual mix of other boating news, this weekend's stoppages and events.
Welcome to the latest edition and I hope you’ve been able to get out on the water in this warm spell. If not then rest assured (and despite the lack of rain), the overwhelming majority of the canals and rivers we look after are waiting for you to enjoy.
Of course, the excruciating lack of rain has led to us taking some measures to conserve water and you can read more below on what additional action we’ll be taking from next week (13 Aug).
Before getting into the dry, pun intended, piece about water conservation a boater recounts the help we gave to those marooned in Salthouse Docks after the collapse of a culvert on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, along with an update on repairs.
There’s also an update on dredging in the Milton Keynes area and how, 40 years ago, those preparing for dredging on the Chesterfield Canal accidentally pulled the plug and drained it!
The regular roundup of other boating news, stoppages and events is, as ever, also below. If there’s a particular topic you’d like to see in a future edition then please drop me a line.
In this edition:
Over the last couple of weeks you may have heard, or seen, that:
Below I’ve picked out some highlights to see and do over the next fortnight. Of course, there are plenty of other activities and volunteering opportunities around the network: visit the events section of the website to find the perfect one for you.
Many of you will know that, back in June, a culvert beneath the Leeds & Liverpool Canal collapsed. As a result a section of the canal drained leaving some boaters stranded in Salthouse Docks. Below you can read an update on the repairs but first, one of the marooned boaters has reflected on the experience and the help we gave to ‘rescue’ them:
“Steve Bergquist and Andrea Barrett (customer operations manager and customer support co-ordinator at the Trust respectively) came down to see us boaters on the Friday afternoon following the culvert collapse (and subsequent closure of the canal into Liverpool). The main reason for the visit was to reassure us that the Trust would do all they could to help the situation.
“They did say at this time, the canal was likely to be closed for 6-8 weeks. Very quickly an extra bin was provided for rubbish. After this, Steve, Andrea and colleague Andy then came to see us at least every week to give us an update of the canal repair progress. Due to the long time the canal was expected to be closed, the boaters, us included, asked questions about a possible ‘escape’ across the river Mersey, along the Manchester ship canal and onto the Shropshire Union Canal.
“Steve and Andrea were very helpful and said they would find out more. There was talk by this time of the boats anodes eroding far quicker than normal due to the salt water. Again, they said they would get some more information on this problem.
“They soon confirmed that trip across the Mersey would be possible and started to arrange for the boat seaworthiness checks to be carried out by an engineer and a pilot arranged for the crossing. We thought the Trust worked very efficiently putting all this together as we understood that there was a lot of things to be organised.
“We finally left on Friday afternoon, 6 July with four other boats. The crossing was exciting but uneventful until we reached Eastham lock where we had to wait around for about 1½ hours circling around whilst we waited to gain entrance to the big lock as ships had priority but this wasn’t the Trust’s fault. The pilot should have been better on timing as only he had radio contact with the lock.
“To sum up, we thought the local team, Steve, Andrea and Andy did a great job, listening to our concerns (not everyone was as polite as us and moaned about lots of things!). We felt they were very professional and positive in the way they handled the situation so all credit to them. They even provided life jackets and ropes for those that didn’t have them.
“Anyway, the proof is in the pudding, as they say. We’re safely cruising down the Shroppie having changed our summer plans!”
The culvert, which is a large pipe carrying a stream beneath the canal, collapsed on Tuesday 12 June between Bridge 9c and Bridge 10 at Melling. Staff from the Trust helped the emergency services to stop the flow of water which initially channelled into an adjacent field.
We have used 1,300 tonnes of stone to install water-tight dams either side of the drained section of canal giving the repair team access to the canal bed and the collapsed culvert beneath it.
A programme of works is underway to install a new culvert which we think is likely to cost between £500-£550k. The aim is to have the stretch of canal back open in the next couple of weeks.
A huge fish rescue took place and, last month, volunteers helped us clear the drained canal of debris and rubbish that had built up beneath the waterline over the years.
Richard Spencer, senior project manager at the Trust said: "We’ve been working hard over the last few weeks installing the permanent dams to allow access into the canal bed to install the new pipe. Alongside its importance to boaters, the Leeds & Liverpool is a wonderful place for local people to walk and cycle and to escape to, so we’re doing all we can to get it fixed and reopened as quickly as possible.
"As a charity, I’d like to thank all those who came out and volunteered earlier this month to help clear all the litter and debris from the canal. Volunteers give up their own time to make the canals such wonderful places and their support is invaluable. And, of course, we’re very grateful for the patience shown by boaters in the area."
With scorched lawns and no need to break out the long trousers, it may not come as a surprise that June was the third driest month since records began in 1910. The hot dry weather continued into July with most parts of the country seeing below average rainfall.
The thundery rainfall that some parts of the country saw in the final week of July has not significantly changed the situation. With forecasters uncertain on rainfall patterns over the coming weeks we’re taking further precautionary steps now to manage the possible effects of continued dry weather.
From today, 10 August, we will be locking gates overnight at certain targeted locks on the Regent’s, Grand Union and Hertford Union canals to minimise wastage through paddles being left open. Outside of London, from 13 August, similar measures will be taken on the Grand Union and Oxford canals. Locking up the gates at the end of the day will protect reservoir levels and enable backpumps to recirculate water ready for the following days boating.
Help us save water
Most boaters don’t need a reminder but, if you’re new to boating or taking a canal boat holiday for the first time, don’t forget our water-saving THRIFT campaign. It asks you, boaters, to help conserve water by taking simple steps such as sharing locks, inviting oncoming boats through locks which are already set for them and, unless advised otherwise, making sure all gates and paddles are closed after use. Posters showing how boaters can help will be displayed in noticeboards and by locksides across the network.
David Baldacchino, head of operational support at the Trust said: “It’s unclear how much longer the exceptionally hot and dry weather will continue so it’s sensible that we all take some simple steps to make best use of our water over the remainder of the summer.
“It’s quite possible that we may not see significant rainfall over the coming weeks and so we’re appealing to boaters to use water wisely and help us to protect the levels within our reservoirs.
“By adopting just a few simple common-sense steps - which many will already be doing - boaters can play a key role in helping us to manage the effects of the dry weather if, as looks likely, it continues through August.”
To date the exceptionally dry conditions have been felt most keenly on waterways in the North West with the Trust announcing temporary closures on parts of the Leeds & Liverpool, Rochdale, Huddersfield Narrow, Peak Forest and Macclesfield canals. The temporary closures will prevent boaters from using certain locks although they can still make limited use of lock-free sections. The canals can still also be used by anglers and canoeists and the towpaths will remain open for people - visitors and the local community alike - to enjoy.
In London the following locks will be closed overnight from today (10 Aug) between 9:00pm - 7:00am .
Details of the locks being closed overnight from 13 August are:
Please also note that, with reluctance, we need to close the Caldon Canal at Hazlehurst lock. The Trent & Mersey (T&M), much akin to a motorway of the waterway network, has had greatly increased traffic because of various restrictions in the north and north west (due to a combination of the exceptionally dry weather - resulting in restrictions - and the breach on the Middlewich Branch of the Shroppie). So, by closing the Caldon at Hazlehurst, we’re able to divert water into the T&M to benefit the maximum number of boaters. If you have a mooring on the closed side of Hazlehurst Lock you can book a passage through the locks by contacting the local regional office. If possible, please try and give 24hrs notice.
We’ve been asked a whole host of questions related to the drought and also how we manage water, if you’ve got one then you may want to check out our Frequently Asked Questions page…
It’s rather apt that the best selling song of 1978 was Boney M’s ‘Rivers of Babylon’. Now, imagine that same song but replace Babylon with Chesterfield. No need to thank me for that earworm!
While that’s perhaps one of my more surreal introductions to an article, it’s not entirely frivolous. The story goes that in the summer of 1978 one of our teams (then British Waterways) had been tasked with dredging a busy stretch of the Chesterfield Canal near Retford.
They were getting rid of tons of mud from the canal bed and pulling out rubbish, when they came across a heavy chain. With much effort by the men and their workboat the chain was removed, and on the end of it was a lump of wood.
The group thought nothing of it and headed to lunch. Little did they know that whilst enjoying their break, thousands of litres of water were swirling out of the canal and into the River Idle. On their return to site they were greeted with an empty waterway and several justifiably annoyed boaters who had been left high and dry.
It went down in local history as a mistake of epic proportions, and ten years on a canal festival was held to mark the unfortunate occasion. Four decades later the story is as well-loved as ever so it’d be a shame not to, ahem, plug the event we’ve decided to put on to commemorate the day once again. It’s a community event, this Saturday (11 Aug) that’ll showcase the beautiful waterway and all that it offers to boaters and people on the towpath and we’d love to see you there!
Talking of dredging, our project on the Grand Union Canal in Milton Keynes has been temporarily halted due to concerns that falling oxygen levels in the water could become too low to support the fish that live in the canal.
The project is about half way through. Roughly 1,500m3 of silt, which is approximately 18,500 bath tubs worth has been removed from the canal and we want to remove a further 1,000m3 from various sections between Wolverton and Milton Keynes. Once removed the silt is being recycled and used as bank protection.
The project is costing us around £250,000 and was due to finish this summer but with the current heat wave, we've decided to halt the project and restart it in the winter.
As someone who’s out, or by, the water more often than most you’ll know that there are times when we need to fix things that unexpectedly break. Or when it doesn’t rain as much as usual. So, below, you’ll find a list of anything that’s happening that may affect you if you’re planning on a cruise this weekend.
When any restrictions to navigation happen, we get them up on to our website as soon as we can – always best to have a scan before you set off for a cruise. If you have any questions about a specific closure then you’ll find the email addresses for our regional offices on our contacts page.
Last date edited: 10 August 2018
Think of this blog as your one-stop shop for up-to-date boating news. It's packed full of useful information about boating on canals and rivers, as well as important safety announcements and upcoming events.See more blogs from this author