June was the third driest month since records began in 1910 and this has continued into July, placing extra pressure on reservoir holdings and depleting other sources of water that feed the canal network.
Although more than 90% of our 2,000 miles of waterways are currently still open for boaters to use, we have had to implement restrictions on parts of our northern waterways. Heightened restrictions were introduced on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in June to conserve water and plans to temporarily close part of the canal to boats, between Wigan and Gargrave, from Monday 30 July were recently announced.
With reservoirs continuing to drain at abnormal rates, we are now implementing further measures as water supplies for the Huddersfield Narrow, Rochdale, Peak Forest and Macclesfield Canals reach minimum levels.
Although we have been carefully managing the water feed from its own reservoirs, and maximising the amount of water it is entitled to take from the third party-owned reservoirs which feed both the Rochdale Canal and Huddersfield Narrow Canal, the lack of rainfall has meant that this has not halted the decline in water levels.
Under normal weather conditions the Rochdale Canal is also supplemented by feeder streams and rivers. However, the flows from these feeder streams have also been depleted.
More hot weather on the way
With no change in the weather, we are reluctantly closing sections of the Rochdale Canal and Huddersfield Narrow Canal to boats from Monday 6 August. The closure on the Rochdale Canal will take effect between locks 1 and 48 (from Sowerby Bridge to Littleborough) – with the exception of a short stretch between locks 6 and 19 (east of Mytholmroyd to Todmorden) where navigation through locks will be restricted to the period between 10am and 2pm under a local booking system.
The Huddersfield Narrow Canal will be closed to boats between locks 24 West to 1 East (from above Uppermill across to Huddersfield).
Overnight restrictions are being introduced on the Macclesfield Canal from today, 23 July, on the Bosley Flight (locks 1 to 12) where use will be limited to the period between 8am and 2pm. Whilst this will conserve water in the short term, we are also warning boaters that it expects to have to temporarily close the canal at Bosley, and in addition – on the Peak Forest Canal - will need to close off access to Bugsworth Basin, both from Monday 13 August. The Marple Flight (locks 1 to 16) on the Peak Forest Canal is already closed due to movement in the lock walls at Lock 11 and will remain closed until they can be re-built. Boating on the Lower Peak Forest (below Marple) and Lower Macclesfield Canals (below Bosley) will remain unrestricted.
It's not clear how long these closures will have to last for, but it's likely to be throughout August, and potentially beyond if there is no significant, sustained rainfall. While the closures will prevent use of these stretches of canal by boats, they can still be used by anglers and canoeists and the towpaths will remain open for people - visitors and the local community alike - to enjoy.
We will continue to work with boating businesses in the affected areas to put contingency plans into place so that people can still enjoy a boating holiday. We are also publishing maps detailing where restrictions or temporary closures are in place so that boaters can plan their summer's cruising.
Jon Horsfall, head of Customer Service Support for the Canal & River Trust, said: "There's just no getting away from the fact that we haven't had enough rain and that's affecting our ability to supply certain sections of canal in the north with the water they need.
"We've been trying to make the water last as long as possible by restricting opening times but each time a boat goes through a lock it uses around 300,000 litres of water. Without rainfall to replenish our reservoirs it's becoming a real challenge to provide these vast quantities of water in some parts of the northern network.
"Of course, visitors and the local community can still enjoy the towpath, canoeists can go for a paddle and anglers can fish on their local canal. Boaters too can still make limited use of lock-free sections, or venture further afield to unaffected parts of the network.
"We're continuing to work with boaters and boating businesses to try and minimise the impact on them as much as we possibly can, including giving them information to help plan their cruising. We'd like to thank them for their help and understanding in these exceptional circumstances and can assure them that we will re-open canals for boats to use as soon as the water supply is back to a sufficient level."
Conserve water where you can
Boaters can help conserve water by:
- Sharing locks where possible and making the best use of the water available.
- Ensuring paddles are fully closed once they've passed through a lock.
- Aiming for minimal contact with gates so that they don't cause any minor damage which could increase leakage when navigating through locks, by ensuring gates are fully open before they pass through.
To find out more about how the Trust manages its water, including water management FAQs and a monthly Reservoir Watch go to: canalrivertrust.org.uk/specialist-teams/managing-our-water.