Water Act 2003

Our Water Management Team has spent the last few years applying for abstraction licences on 155 of our feeders, reservoir outflows and pumps to ensure compliance with the Water Act 2003. Find out what this means for the Trust and how abstraction licences will affect our work.

The Water Act 2003 aims to increase environmental protection and ensure the sustainable use of water resources. The Trust’s waterways were always exempt from requiring abstraction licences (permission to take water from a water source) because of our status as a navigation authority, but from 2021 many surface water sources will be licensed.

The Trust’s Water Management team has spent the last few years applying for abstraction licences on 155 of our feeders, reservoir outflows and pumps to ensure compliance with this legislation. Applications are being determined by the Environment Agency for England and Natural Resources Wales in Wales.  Both these government bodies started reviewing these applications in 2020 and will conclude their reviews at the end of 2022.

In April 2021 the Environment Agency began issuing the first batch of Trust licences. The licences apply to the flow control structures, mainly weirs and sluices, that are in place. They may also have conditions on the amount of water we can take, and when we can take it, in order to protect the environment. For example, in future, we will not be able to alter licensed structures to increase the amount of water we take and we may have to stop abstraction at a site altogether.

Hands Off Flow

In times of drought, we may be issued with a ‘hands off flow’ order to stop all abstraction at a site. We’ve worked closely with the regulators to try to balance the environmental protection of the streams and rivers we abstract from with the range of needs for the canals that these abstractions support. It is hoped the hands off flows will only be triggered occasionally, as many of our canals are themselves designated for their rich flora and fauna, as well as the role they play in supporting navigation, amenity and wellbeing.

Our Water Management team is undertaking site visits with local teams to all the sites, as they become licensed, to talk through the site set-up and licence conditions. It may also become necessary to develop new sources of water or improve our water efficiency in some places to ensure that we can keep the waterways open throughout the year.