The charity making life better by water

Lee & Stort Navigations: Water for navigation and the environment

Our water management team tell us about the Lee and Stort Navigations and why water efficient boating is vital.

River Lee Navigation

It is far too easy to take water for granted while slowly boating along one of our ‘river navigations'.

In a traditional manmade canal, the water needed to maintain a navigable depth mostly comes from water captured and stored within our network of reservoirs, from nearby streams, or water pumped out of underground aquifers (known as groundwater).

In a river navigation, such as the Lee Navigation and River Stort, modifications, or ‘canalisation', of the river may have taken place to make the channel suitable for craft to navigate and the natural flow of the river supports the navigation.

Many river navigations were constructed at a time when mills were operating along the same stretch of river. In these locations, or other locations where there were multiple river users, the river could have been divided into different channels, which share the flow of the river.

Low river flows

At times of low river flows it is important to navigate using water as efficiently as possible. Water displaced from one pound to the next via lock operations may temporarily reduce water levels in the navigation or adjoining river channels. To preserve the aquatic environment, particularly at low flows when the environment can become stressed, these side channels also need a supply of water.

The water within the rivers Lea and Stort that support these navigations predominantly originates from chalk groundwater aquifers of Hertfordshire and Essex. While we have had some wet (and snowy) weather during this winter (2017-2018), we have had a prolonged period of dry weather, dating back to the previous winter (2016-2017). During this time there have been more drier months than wetter months. This has led to below normal groundwater levels in these aquifers and flows within the rivers Lea and Stort are now below normal for the time of year.

How boaters can help

So this year, we're asking boaters to make sure they help with some water efficient boating:

  • make sure all gates and paddles are shut
  • invite oncoming boats through and be prepared to wait. Don't empty or fill a lock if someone else can use the water
  • think ahead and plan cruises to minimise use of locks
  • let us know if you spot a leak

Find out more about how we manage the water within our waterways.

Last Edited: 15 May 2018

photo of a location on the canals
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