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The charity making life better by water

Six ways to save water

We look after and bring to life 2,000 miles of waterways because we believe that life is better by water. The key ingredient here is 'water'. But with drier summers and drier winters what would happen if there was no water?

We're all getting used to saving water in our homes and on our boats. In fact, boaters have some common sense ways to make a tank of fresh water go that bit further. Some of the ones we've heard of are:

  • Making sure shower heads and taps are the water saving aerator type.
  • Always using a plug in a sink or basin, not leaving the water running when washing yourself or washing up.
  • Making sure washing machines are the most resource efficient ones available.
  • Making sure you've got no leaks in your water system. Check regularly.
  • Only using the amount of water you need when making hot drinks or cooking.
  • Recycle grey water for plant watering (if you're a green fingered boater).

Keeping water in the canal

But have you ever thought about how to save and preserve the water you're cruising on in our canals and rivers?

Water management infographic

Canals aren't a closed system with water permanently kept at a certain level. Many feed into rivers or other canals. Most are fed by water from reservoirs, which in turn are replenished with rain. And water has a habit of flowing down hill thanks to gravity. So, on higher parts of the network, such as over the Pennines for example, the upper pounds can lose water naturally through water flowing through locks.

Add to that the summer heat evaporating the water by a few inches, and when you've only got a few inches draft to spare, you can see what a difference to your cruise not enough water in the canal can make.

Saving water all year round

Summer 2018 was the driest on record. And yet, 90% of our waterways stayed open for you to enjoy. This amazing achievement was thanks to everyone working together. Here are the ways we're all working to save water in our canals – not just in the summer, but all year round.

1. Volunteer lock keepers

On the towpath you'll be used to seeing our vast team of volunteer lock keepers who are trained to help boaters through busy or complex locks without losing too much water.

In 2018 there were 1,114 volunteer lock keepers across 111 sites – more than we've ever had. On an average week around 3,410 locks full of water were saved by their help.

Lock Keepers

2. Winter works

Across winter 2018/2019, the Trust completed hundreds of jobs that, one way or another, will help to keep the water in the cut. There were just under 50 that specifically were wholly about conserving water.

Our engineers spent £22m in 2017/18 on crucial work to fix leaking locks, reline gates, replace gates and so on. Although, of course it is a year round battle given the age of many of our locks. Which is why a further £27.6m was spent on day to day maintenance, repairs and minor works.

3. Recycling water

Just like home and boat owners, we recycle our water. Only on a massive scale. All around the system we're using technology to monitor the water levels on the waterways.

Water management team using the M9 equipment.

4. Watching the reservoirs

Seventy-two reservoirs provide water to the canal network. Our water management team keep a beady eye on them. We monitor the water levels in every one of our reservoirs on a weekly basis. If you like facts and figures, you can see how we do that with our regular Reservoir Watch updates.

5. Helping holiday boaters

With over 100,000 holiday boat trips every year, we're very aware that novice boaters may be nervous when it comes to taking to the tiller. That's why the dozens of boat hire businesses up and down the country play a vital role in teaching newbies the rules of the road – er-hum – canal.

6. Boaters are best

Save water | Close the gates | Lower the paddles

The best partners we have in helping to save water in our canals are our boaters. As our blog ‘Going with the flow' explains, water conservation has always been an issue from the get go. It's why you'll see our ‘Save water' reminders at certain locks. Perhaps you've got some handy hints to save water as you cruise yourselves? Why not share them on our Boaters' Facebook page or our Twitter feed.

Water is precious. It's at the heart of our network. It always has been. Which is why conserving water and sharing the waterspace isn't just for times of drought. So when you're out and about cruising this year, as well as cutting down on washing up or taking one less shower, remember:

  • look after the water in the canals
  • share locks where possible
  • let us know if you spot a sudden leak
  • close gates and paddles after you

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'd love to tell you more

Our newsletter is packed full of exciting updates and stories of how our charity keeps canals alive.

Last Edited: 12 August 2022

photo of a location on the canals
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