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

Over the past month unsettled weather conditions have helped to increase our reservoir holdings across the North, including the reservoirs that supply the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. Consequently we are lifting the remaining restrictions that had been implemented to conserve water resources.

Which canals are affected?

At present there are no 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. 

Are any other navigations affected?

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

On parts of the canal network we are monitoring reservoir holdings, feeder inflows and canal demands closely but boaters are able to cruise as normal.

What difference has recent rainfall made?

Recent rainfall has lead to a significant improvement in many of our reservoir holdings and although some are still below their Long Term Average holding, further rainfall is anticipated over the winter.

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?

The Trust’s 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 while moving through. Pushing gates open using a boat can damage the gate lining, increasing its leakage

We request 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 have 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 is 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 (e.g. 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. We are hopeful the reservoirs in the north will continue to refill and start the season next year in a healthy position. However, this will depend on rainfall between now and then For the south, the reservoirs are still being drawn down. Again, winter rainfall will be crucial to the refill of our reservoirs in the south. The Trust are 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: 21 December 2018