Water management FAQs

Below are answers to some of your most frequently asked questions.

What’s the current water resources position?

The vast majority of the Trust’s reservoirs are at, or near to, their long-term average levels for this time of year.

Reservoir holdings at Boddington on the South Oxford Canal are lower than usual for this time of year, due to a combination of low river flows, increased demand, and unusual weed growth. To maximise water resources, we will be introducing operating times at Marston Doles and Claydon Locks from Friday 14 August and are carrying out works to address the weed growth.

The significant and sustained rainfall in the North West in July has improved our reservoir holdings sufficiently to ensure we have enough water for the remainder of the boating season. We are pleased to advise there is free flowing navigation along most of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, with the exception of restricted operating times at Wigan flight, Bingley Three & Five Rise and Kirkstall lock to Newly (click links for details).

On the Peak Forest and Macclesfield canals, which have been greatly hampered by the loss of Toddbrook Reservoir near Whaley Bridge which is currently undergoing major repair work, all restrictions have been lifted. We will continue to monitor the situation and will reintroduce operating times as necessary to conserve water.

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

We are taking the sensible precaution of closing some locks up at the end of the day to ensure there’s no wastage of water. These measures are intended to reduce water losses overnight and, where they’re in place, allow backpumps more time to transfer water – providing an alternative source of water to our reservoirs.

Every year we complete hundreds of jobs during our winter maintenance programme to contribute to the water-saving effort. In addition, we carry out some targeted works on key locks to help conserve water and dredge waterways and channels to help with water flow.

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. 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 whilst 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.

Are we likely to see problems elsewhere?

At this stage sections of the Oxford and Leeds & Liverpool Canals are the only part of the network where water resource actions are required. Boaters are still able to use these waterways within the opening hours. All other parts of our 2,000 miles of waterways are available for boaters to enjoy as normal.

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 visit the stoppages page to subscribe to notifications in a particular area.

What is the potential ecological impact of low rainfall?

Careful management of our precious water resources is vital. We need to maintain a minimal level of flow in the canal to protect fish and other wildlife, and prevent the water from becoming stagnant. Low reservoir and canal levels, coupled with higher temperatures in summer months, can cause problems such as algal blooms and low oxygen levels in the water. In extreme cases, we may intervene to save distressed fish with large scale fish rescues.

Why don’t you fix all the leaks?

The majority of water lost from man-made canals is through leakage via the canal bed and banks. Much of today’s current waterway navigation network consists of clay-lined canals which are more than 200 years old. These are not 100% watertight and it would be impractical to fix every leak. However, the Trust is committed to identifying and repairing any significant problems. Over the last year, we have invested more than £350K in leakage reduction works on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal - a total of 37 major projects over winter 2019/20, helping to minimise water loss from the system.

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 similar restrictions in the past, we’ve subsequently seen decreases in total lock usage. However, the water resource savings do vary across different canals and between years.

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. So 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 across 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.

Last date edited: 31 July 2020