British Waterways’ Reservoir Watch

Waterscape is now the best place to find out the latest information about British Waterways’ reservoir holdings.

We’ll be letting you know how the glorious British weather affects reservoir levels and how this may impact on our canals and rivers.Water is a valuable resource and it’s important that we make the most of what we have. By monitoring the levels in our reservoirs we can plan for the future and minimise disruption to the canals in times of drought.

British Waterways monitors the water levels in every one of its reservoirs on a weekly basis.

Each reservoir has gauge boards, which are read by waterway operatives and then entered into our central database. The water level is converted into a reservoir holding, which can tell us how full the reservoir is in percentage terms.

Adam Comerford, group hydrology manager at British Waterways explains: “By monitoring on the same day every week, throughout the year, we can calculate the change from one week to the next, and this helps us to understand how much water has gone into or out of a reservoir. We use the reservoir holding information to manage our water resources, deciding which reservoirs to use to feed the canal at different periods in the boating season and whether to use alternative resources, such as pumps, to supplement the reservoir water.

“Our records show reservoir levels for every week going back over many years, so we can compare the current situation against historical years, including drought periods.”

Reservoir Watch in April

March was an exceptionally mild month and the driest for the UK since 1953. Most of the country reported less than half the average rainfall, further intensifying the drought and extending its spatial extent.

According to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, much of the drought-affected region recorded only 30-40% of the March average rainfall. The winter recovery in groundwater levels has been extremely weak, river flows in March were more typical of late summer.

Total river flow for the October-March period was the 2nd lowest after 1975/6 in a record starting in 1961.



Reservoir Holdings

In terms of British Waterways reservoir stocks, the Oxford & Grand Union, GU South and GU North groups are of particular concern, being well below their long term average for this time of year. Although there was some modest refill over the past month due to the occasional rainfall assisted by the implementation of Drought Schemes to pump additional water into some reservoirs, the overall water resource position for these parts of the network is of concern.

Restrictions to lock use

As stated in the March issue of Reservoir Watch, British Waterways took the unusual step of implementing overnight restrictions mostly from Monday 19th March to reduce lockage demand and ensure careful use of water at a number of sites on the Oxford and Grand Union Canals.

Water levels on the Kennet & Avon Canal are also being closely monitored and similar restrictions could be implemented there subject to water availability.  National and regional maps detailing these restrictions are available for download.

British Waterways will be reviewing the effect these restrictions have had in reducing demand for water over the Easter period along with projections of the future water resource position for the next few months of the main boating season, and will reissue an updated map in due course, highlighting any changes to the restrictions if they are considered necessary.

It is recommended that customers sign up to receive email alerts about restrictions

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