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The charity making life better by water

Water management FAQs

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

What is the current water resources position?

The Trust is investing many £millions carrying out essential maintenance on reservoirs to make sure they continue to comply with the stringent law and remain safe, in the face of a changing climate and more extremes of weather. The work will ensure the long-term integrity of the reservoirs and the vital water supply they provide to the canal network.

In some instances, the maintenance requires water levels to be temporarily ‘held down' meaning there will be less water than normal available for boating. In the north, following conversations with hire boat firms and other stakeholders, we are introducing shorter opening times in several locations from Easter to conserve water for navigation. We have published an overview of water resources in the north here.

Our water management and engineering teams are working closely with the independent reservoir engineers to minimise the disruption where possible, such as through the timing of the works or the development of flood forecasting systems. We are asking boaters, with the help of volunteer lock keepers, to be even more careful than usual to conserve water. See the monthly summary of reservoir holdings in our national “reservoir watch” here.

Our teams review levels on a daily basis and will introduce water saving measures, or remove restrictions, as necessary. For real time updates please sign up to receive our Stoppage Notices.

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.

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. Pushing gates open using a boat can damage the gate lining, increasing its leakage.
  • Please report any leaks by calling 0303 040 4040 or emailing via

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

Please only use the water point to fill up your water tank to use for drinking water and hygiene purposes. Please do not use the water point to wash your boat with a hose or jet washer.

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

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 and carries out hundreds of large and small repairs every year.

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.

Kingfisher in flight with small fish in its beak

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Last Edited: 04 April 2024

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