Drought FAQs

The vast majority of the Trust’s 2,000 miles of waterways are currently open for boaters to enjoy as normal.

Drought Drought

However limited rainfall in the reservoir catchments feeding the Leeds & Liverpool canal over recent weeks has seen holdings start to decline or stagnate, at a time when they would ordinarily be expected to rise. Reservoir refill on this canal is currently below what it was at the same time following the 2010 drought. There is also much uncertainty about the prospect of prolonged rainfall in the medium to long term weather forecasts.

Which canals are affected?

From 26 November part of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal (between lock 30 at Holme Bridge and lock 85 at Wigan) will be open to boat traffic for one day to week until further notice. The lock flights at Gargrave, Bank Newton, Greenberfield and Barrowford will open every Saturday between 9.00am and 3.00pm to allow boats to travel along the canal. The lock flight at Wigan will be open on Thursdays only, with passage on to the flight between 8.30am-10.00am and exit off the flight between 12.30pm-2.00pm.

Johnsons Hillocks and Blackburn Locks will remain open with no restrictions, however, movement will be monitored and this decision is subject to change. We kindly request customers check all gates and paddles are closed after use and to share locks where possible.

Existing water-saving restrictions on locks west of lock 85 (Wigan) will remain in place. These restrictions do not affect the scheduled winter stoppages at Finsley Gate (Burnley) or Poolstock Lock 2 and Plank Lane on the Leigh Branch.

At present there are no other restrictions or closures in place across the network due to low water resources. In the locations where there are stoppages or closures in place these are due to winter engineering works. 

The situation can vary according to local conditions, so boaters should check for the latest stoppage notices on our website.

What is the Canal & River Trust doing about it?

Where recent rainfall has not significantly improved our reservoir holdings we've reluctantly had to keep restricted opening times in place at some locks to make the best possible use of our water and enable boats to get to where they need to be.

For the Leeds & Liverpool Canal we are working with the Environment Agency to explore the possibility of additional river abstractions during the winter period. This may have the potential to support reservoir refill prior to the 2019 boating season. the feasibility of the proposed schemes is currently being assessed.

For more detail on the restrictions please see our national closures map

Why have you chosen these locations for restrictions/closure?

The locations for the restrictions and closures are where we get most benefit for saving water, while allowing as much of the canal as possible to be open.

Decisions are based on local conditions, taking into account a raft of evidence such as reservoir holdings, water levels, weather forecasts, and environmental impact.

Will the towpaths remain open?

Although we’re restricting the time that boats can use certain locks the canals can still be used by anglers and canoeists and the towpaths will remain open for people - visitors and the local community alike - to enjoy.

Are any other navigations affected?

Currently the vast majority of our 2,000 miles of waterways are available for boaters to enjoy as normal.

Elsewhere on the canal network we're monitoring reservoir holdings, feeder inflows and canal demands extremely closely to understand the risks to other parts of the network.

What difference has recent rainfall made?

While we've seen significant reservoir recharge in many locations, there are also reservoirs where very little recharge has been seen over the past couple of months. Dispite the reduction in boater demand. In these cases, significant rainfall will be needed over the winter to make sure the reservoirs refill ready for the 2019 boating season. So, in some parts of our network we’re keeping restricted opening times in place at certain locks to make best possible use of water.

What is the potential ecological impact of the low rainfall?

Over the summer we took action to conserve water levels in our reservoirs to minimise any ecological impact and protect wildlife. We're continuing to monitor conditions in affected areas, however the risk of problems such as algal blooms and low oxygen levels in the water is now much reduced due to far lower temperatures than during the summer heatwave.

Day-to-day water management

Where can I find out about the water resource situation?

Our website is a great source of information on the latest water resource position and any boating advice/restrictions. Our water management team produces a monthly reservoir watch on the site, which gives details of reservoir holdings across the network. Or you can contact your local office to subscribe to notifications in a particular area.

How can boaters help to save water?

Boaters have an important role to play in efficient water management. You can help us by:

  • Sharing locks where possible and making the best use of the water available
  • Make sure paddles are fully closed once you’ve passed through a lock
  • Aim for minimal contact when navigating through locks by ensuring gates are fully open as you pass through. Even a single boat in a broad lock should open both gates whilst moving through. Pushing gates open using a boat can damage the gate lining, increasing its leakage

We ask that marina owners, particularly those with hire fleets, help encourage boaters to act responsibly with water.

We also need all canal users to be vigilant about vandalism, as we have had some huge water wastages this year through vandalism. Please call the police if you have any concerns or witness vandalism.

Why don’t you fix all your leaks?

The majority of water lost from the canal is through seepage and evaporation. The canal network is more than 200 years old and largely features a clay-lined canal bed which is not 100% watertight.

Sometimes, it is more cost effective to develop additional water resources (identify alternative sources of water) rather than tackle the most expensive leaks, especially when you consider that relining one kilometre of canal can cost well over £1 million.

While we have more water travelling through some locks than we would like, most of it remains within the canal system to feed demand lower down. In these cases, the lock leakage simply allows water to pass downstream, which is water that we would otherwise have had to feed via sluices and bypass weirs anyway.

Rest assured our technical teams look at these issues in detail and make decisions based on using our limited financial resources wisely. 

Do restrictions simply concentrate the same lock usage (and hence water use) into a shorter period?

No, our experience shows that where we’ve implemented restrictions of this kind in the past we’ve subsequently seen decreases in lock usage of 20-40%.

Why don’t you operate pounds brimming with water as the longer pounds could operate as a reservoir?

The loss of water from a canal pound due to leakage and seepage is the largest component of water demand on a canal system. Loss rates are at their highest during the summer, when soil is dry and water tables are low. The leakiest part of the canal lining is the top 15 cm (6 inches), because it is continually wetted and dried. It is also subject to holes or cracks formed by burrowing animals and wave action from boat propellers. Increasing the operational level of a pound, especially in a drought, would greatly increase loss rates. During a drought, we actually aim to run pounds as low as operationally possible to reduce losses.

Why don’t you dredge reservoirs to increase their capacity?

We've a rolling programme of surveys to monitor the capacity of our reservoirs and these show that, generally, over a number of years siltation hasn’t been a significant problem. It's also generally accepted within the water industry that the removal of silt from reservoirs is considerably more expensive than creating new resources or reducing demand elsewhere. This cost means that reservoir dredging is very rarely cost-effective and, particularly so in this case given the results of our reservoir monitoring.

What are you doing to ensure water restrictions or stoppages aren’t needed in the future?

As well as responding to unfolding droughts, we also take a more strategic approach to managing future water resources. Our water management team is responsible for assessing the resilience of water supply and advising the business on the potential impact of proposed canal developments (eg. new marinas) and investment required to supplement water resources.

The Trust reserves the right to object to or decline canal development proposals on the basis that they may have an unacceptable impact on the existing water supply. Unfortunately, we can never give absolute assurances to our customers about having enough water to get through every drought, regardless of the extent, duration and severity but we will do whatever we can to keep as much of the network as possible open.

What are your prospects for next year?

At the moment it is too early to give any confidence of the expected water resource situation for next year, and the answer depends on the location.

We're hopeful the reservoirs will refill and start the season next year in a healthy position. At presetn reservoirs are still being used in some location in the north. Consequently, winter rainfall will be crucial to the refill of some of our reservoirs. We're closely monitoring the situation.

It should however be noted, the resource position at the start of 2018 was healthy. It was the extremely dry summer months, which resulted in the lack of reservoir refill and reduced river flows during the season that lead to the closures in the north this year.

If you have anymore questions why not email our water team

You can also download our Northern Water Resource Position Statement, which elaborates on water levels, specific restrictions and how everyone can help to follow our THRIFT campaign to conserve water.

Last date edited: 2 December 2018