Supplementary memorandum by British Waterways
We have prepared this paper to help inform the
Committee about the way in which arrangements for flood management
work on our navigations. Our work is only one part of a wide ranging
partnership, which includes the Environment Agency, local authorities,
internal drainage boards and the emergency services.
1. The role of British Waterways
1. British Waterways manages and cares for
over 1,500 miles of canals and over 400 miles of navigable rivers
in England, Scotland and Wales. Full details are contained in
Appendices A and B of our main submission to the Select Committee
(29 September 2000).
2. Both canals and rivers form an important
part of the UK's land drainage system.
3. Managing river and other water flows
and levels is an integral part of the daily work carried out by
British Waterways. It is a requirement of the successful management
of navigations and is therefore "built in" to the culture
of our organisation. Our operational staff have a detailed knowledge
of local conditions which helps them to assess the specific needs
of any particular stretch of waterway.
4. We manage flood control within the regulatory
framework set by the Environment Agency, and as part of our own
5. We also operate flood control arrangements
on behalf of the Environment Agency as do many other bodies such
as water companies, internal drainage boards and local authorities.
British Waterways' and the Environment Agency's joint studies
in 1996 concluded that these arrangements were working well. The
recent severe flooding demonstrated the practical way in which
co-operation on the ground between British Waterways (as the navigation
authority) and the Environment Agency (as the regulator) worked
6. When there are major floods, responsibility
for managing rescue operations etc is taken by the emergency services.
We are used to working with the emergency services (there are
other operational aspects of managing canals and rivers which
involve them, eg car accidents in which vehicles fall into the
waterway) and we maintain regular contact with them.
2. Impact of recent flooding on British Waterways
7. The recent flooding is widely acknowledged
as extremely severe. In some cases, such as the River Ouse in
Yorkshire (where British Waterways is the navigation authority),
we experienced floods of an intensity not seen for 400 years.
The long duration of the flooding and its wide geographical spread
contributed to the hardship caused to thousands of people.
8. Most canals and rivers managed by British
Waterways were affected by the heavy rainfall. The areas most
seriously affected are shown in the table below.
Leeds & Liverpool Canal
River Ouse (Yorkshire)
9. There was widespread co-operation between British
Waterways staff, the emergency services and the Environment Agency.
10. British Waterways staff took early action to minimise
the risk of flooding wherever possible. Frequently, water control
action (eg moving water to lower the levels to cope with an expected
swift inflow of water) took place even before Environment Agency
flood warnings were received. This is because our navigation responsibilities
require us to take account of rising water levels that can affect
boats, long before flooding becomes a serious threat.
On the lower River Tees, we were able to ensure that no flooding
took place because of our staff's expert management of flood flows
through advanced operation of the Tees Barrage.
11. We provided "on the ground" resources for
the Environment Agency in many places.
We were able to pass flood flows through our sea lock at
Boston on the Witham Navigation to assist the Agency.
The Environment Agency is responsible for the operation and
maintenance of non-navigational flood control structures on the
River Trent. We assisted the Environment Agency in Nottingham
by diagnosing the faults in two of their crucial floodgates and
carrying out the repair, which allowed them to be operated.
We were able to prevent more serious inland flooding by carrying
out pumping of water, which was collecting behind flood defences.
At Selby (North Yorkshire) for example, in consultation with the
Environment Agency, we pumped away more than one tonne of water
per second for a week into the River Ouse at an agreed, safe and
appropriate point to prevent the Selby Canal from flooding and
to protect the town itself.
12. Our devolved local management structure with individual
waterway managers clearly accountable for all aspects of specific
waterways allowed us to take fast and flexible decisions geared
to local circumstances.
In Skipton (North Yorkshire), the rising waters of the Eller
Brook threatened to flow into the Leeds & Liverpool Canal
and flood the town. Our local staff responded quickly analysing
the situation and organising the overnight construction of a dam
to divert the floodwaters harmlessly into a nearby river.
Staff from our North Yorkshire Navigations worked alongside
the emergency services and the army to evacuate residents of Cawood
in North Yorkshire to safety.
Sawley Marina (near Nottingham) was affected by the floods,
but not one of the 360 boats in the marina was sunk as a result.
Our staff worked continuously to move boats to safety and kept
anxious owners informed via phone calls and newsletters.
13. As the flood water levels drop, we are assessing
the damage to navigational structures and the cost of repair.
Since it is not government policy to insure on the private market
for such events, we maydepending on our assessment of the
damagehave to request additional funding to cover repairs.
3. The Future
14. We have assessed the potential of climate change
to cause more frequent and extensive flooding than in the past.
We do not consider that more frequent flooding can be prevented,
but we do believe that it can be minimised and its effect on navigational
structures mitigated by appropriate investment in maintenance
and repair. We have built into our plans the systems and operational
procedures to achieve this and will keep our plans under regular
review. We will reassess them as more data from recent flooding
15. British Waterways is currently committed to a programme
of repairs to eliminate its backlog of maintenance arrears which
stood at £237 million at the end of March 2000. (See our
original submission paragraphs 62-63)
16. As part of these works, an assessment is undertaken
of the adequacy of water channel dimensions as well as of the
robustness of navigational structures such as river weirs, embankments,
culverts, bye weirs and sluices which impact on flood control.
Once the backlog of arrears is eliminated, we believe that we
will have a system that has an enhanced tolerance to help it cope
with the expected more severe weather conditions and the floods
they will cause. Using our new grant level, and our own increased
earned income, we will eliminate the arrears of maintenance by
We are determined to further reduce the time needed to eliminate
statutory arrears by developing the waterways for the movement
and supply of water to customers (see our original submission
paragraphs 45-46). If successful, this will enable a more acceptable
date of 2015 to be achieved.
17. The earliest practical date for eliminating the backlog
of arrears without causing unreasonable disruption to users of
the network is 2010. This would require additional government
funding. We recognise that in making funding allocations, government
has had to balance competing demands and choose priorities.
18. We will continue to take expert advice on climate
change and its impact on the waterways. We will, therefore, keep
our plans under review.
19. We recognise that recent flooding may cause concern
about unregulated waterside regeneration. We believe that the
attraction of good waterside regeneration remains undiminished.
Our work is based on three key principles:
reuse of building or brownfield sites some of
which are already located within flood plains and form part of
the existing urban infrastructure;
incorporation of modern building design, landscape
and infrastructure techniques to remove or mitigate the effects
of flooding; and
building on new sites only after collaboration
with the Environment Agency and local authorities.
20. We are currently bidding in partnership with the
Environment Agency, for £2.2 million under the government's
Capital Fund programme for a project to update and extend telemetry
systems which will enable us to anticipate and control water levels
even more quickly and effectively.
21. In summary, British Waterways:
believes that co-operation between ourselves,
the emergency services and the Environment Agency was effective
during the recent flooding;
has the structure and skills to manage flooding
on its waterways now and in the future;
has a plan to take account of the effects of flooding
caused by the currently understood effects of climate change;
is keeping the developing situation under careful
22 November 2000