Water management FAQs

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

What is the current water resources position?

The majority of the Trust’s reservoirs are at, or near to, their long-term average levels for this time of year. See the national water resource position here.

This year, and over the next few years, the Trust is carrying out essential maintenance on reservoirs to make sure they continue to comply with the law and remain safe. The investment, amounting to many £millions, 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. We are asking boaters, with the help of volunteer lock keepers, to be even more careful than usual to conserve water.

What are you doing to conserve water?

To make sure water resources last as long as possible, and after consultation with the hire boat trade and local stakeholders, we will be limiting the opening hours at certain lock flights so we can make the water that’s available last as long as possible.

This sensible precaution means closing some locks up at the end of the day to ensure there’s no wastage of water. Where they’re in place, it also allows backpumps more time to recycle water back up a lock flight.  

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

What areas are affected?

Reservoirs affected by maintenance works this summer are in the north of England – the Peak Forest and Macclesfield canals and the Leeds & Liverpool Canal – and on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal in the Midlands.

We have introduced restricted opening times at the following locations to help make our water supplies for boating last as long as possible:

  1. The Peak Forest and Macclesfield canals: Bosley and Marple.
  2. The Leeds & Liverpool Canal: Wigan to Kirkstall, Bingley Three & Five Rise and Newlay, Forge and Kirkstall.
  3. The Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal: Foxton Locks and Watford Lock Flight.

We will continue to monitor and work with you to take appropriate action when necessary to conserve water.

What have we been doing over winter?

Despite coronavirus restrictions, this winter we still completed hundreds of jobs to contribute to our water-saving effort. In advance of the reservoir works, we have also been able to carry out targeted works on key locks to help conserve water and dredge waterways and channels to help with water flows supplying the canals.  

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 Peak Forest and Macclesfield, Leeds & Liverpool, and the Leicester Line of the Grand Union are the only parts 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 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.

Last date edited: 11 May 2021