Canals on tap

Fresh running water is something many of us take for granted in the UK, with little thought to where it actually comes from. Surprisingly, in some parts of England, the water supply depends upon our historic canal network.

Photo of Purton Hulks Gloucester & Sharpness Canal

That’s certainly the case if you live in Bristol, where nearly half of its population, around 600,000 people, rely on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal for their water.

Our charity, and British Waterways before us, have supplied the people of Bristol with water since the early 1960s.

245 million litres of water a day

Every day, we pump some 245 million litres of raw water from the River Severn at Gloucester. It then flows along the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal, before we divert it into the Bristol Water’s treatment works, 23km down the line at Purton.

In fact, without the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal, Bristol’s water supply would quickly run dry, causing a national emergency. It’s essential that this vital resource continues to flow.

Investing in the future

From customer water bills, Bristol Water pays us for our water supply. We use this money to help maintain both this waterway and others around the country.

Maintaining and upgrading our canal infrastructure costs hundreds of millions of pounds. Earning money from water transfers like this is crucial and has far-reaching benefits.

Sustainable and eco-friendly

At a time when climate change is such a pressing issue, with too much rain falling in some parts of the country and too little in others, our canals offer a relatively low-cost way of transferring water around the country.

They are a sustainable, eco-friendly way to move water over long distances without the need to invest in new infrastructure. In Bristol alone, the cost of implementing a brand-new canal or piping system to add to the water supply could run as high as £2.3bn.

Like us, Bristol Water recognises the huge importance of the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal to Bristol’s water supply. As they told us: “Bristol Water intends to work with the Canal & River Trust to ensure the continued resilience of these important raw water supplies for the future and to identify ways of doing this more efficiently, which is a challenge being placed not just on the water industry, but on all public services.”

A cleaner, greener solution

As a charity, we rely heavily on sources of income like this, without which, we would be unable to carry out our essential work. By investing in key projects like the one in Bristol, we can help tackle the effects of climate change and ensure the supply of clean, sustainable drinking water for many years to come.

It’s amazing to think that our canals and waterways, so long associated with commerce and industry, may now be at the forefront of a green revolution.

Last date edited: 5 November 2021