Water management FAQs

Following the recent heavy rain in July and August, the vast majority of the Trust’s reservoirs are at, or near to, their long-term average levels for this time of year.

The South Oxford Summit has seen far less rainfall. Monitoring here will continue and, if the dry weather returns later in the year, we may need to introduce some autumnal restrictions. Similarly, river fed navigations may continue to see the long-term effects of dry weather into the autumn as they are largely supplied by ground water, which is still low in many places.

When water is in short supply, what do you do about it?

We keep a close eye on our water resources and, when they are running low, we take the sensible precaution of closing some locks up at the end of the day to ensure there’s no wastage of water.

In addition, we're carrying out some targeted works on key locks to help conserve water. More details of these works can be found on the stoppages section of our website.

This is on top of the hundreds of jobs completed during our winter maintenance programme that would have contributed to the water-saving effort - there were just under 50 carried out that were purely about conserving water. 

Our aim is to strike a balance between making the waterways as accessible as possible for boaters and mitigating against future risk.

How can boaters help?

Saving water is a team effort and we all have a role to play all year round. However boaters are by far the best partner we have in helping to save water and their support really is invaluable.

Boaters’ top tips for helping to conserve water include:

  • Share locks where possible and make 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.

Marina owners, particularly those with hire fleets, can help by encouraging boaters to follow these simple tips.

We also need all canal users to be vigilant about vandalism, please call the police if you have any concerns or witness vandalism.

What role do volunteer lock keepers play?

Volunteer lock keepers also have a really important part to play. In 2018 we had 1,114 volunteer lock keepers working with us across 111 sites – more than we’ve ever had. On an average week their efforts helped to save an amazing 3,410 locks full of water.

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.

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 silting 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.

Is there likely to be an ecological impact of the low rainfall?

At this stage we aren’t seeing any major impacts however our expert ecologists will monitor the situation carefully as we head into the warmer months. 

Last date edited: 16 August 2019