Flooding – Rights and Responsibilities

October 5, 2013 by  

Discussing Water Rights.previewAfter the recent flooding and observing first-hand the distress and damage caused to affected individuals and the general confusion that was created I decided to look into the general situation with a particular regard to our own Ward.

Hawkwell West is criss-crossed with drainage ditches, brooks and streams.

Generally speaking the water will flow through the ground and enter these water courses slowly finally exiting into the sea via the River Roach. Very heavy rain may cause surface water, which should lead into these water courses and so out of harm’s way.

Hawkwell Flooding 2013

 Quite a few activities that we take for granted affect this

 Firstly older properties do not commonly have a separate surface water  drainage system so the surface, storm (rain) water is channelled into the main  sewers. In the recent rains a main sewer that crosses our property was up  about 10 feet in height, 1 inch from over-spilling.

Clearance of land for building or other purposes also speeds up the movement  of water as it is no longer inhibited or used by vegetation. Although all new  buildings now have to have a surface water drainage system and on large sites,  an overflow/retention arrangement put in place [SUDS tank or pond/lagoon] there is a risky interim time between the clearance of the land and the installation of surface water drainage that could potentially cause problems for the surrounding area. This is due to larger amounts of water than usual flowing to neighbouring areas and at much greater speed.

Lastly the tide; As all water courses tend to ultimately end up in the sea high tide inhibits the discharge.

So who is responsible for what? And do any rights compensate for this responsibility?

A watercourse is defined as any channel through which water flows and can be open or enclosed underground as a culvert.

Whilst the Environment Agency is responsible for main, or designated, rivers all other watercourses are the responsibility of the Riparian Owner……………

Not a term that we hear very often but one that I think we are going to become more aware of as weather variations continue to increase the risk of flooding.

A Riparian Owner owns the land adjoining a watercourse and the law presumes an ownership to the centre of the water course. The Riparian Owner is deemed to be responsible for the maintenance and water flow where the watercourse borders your land and in extreme circumstances could face legal action.


However you do have the right of access to the water and also generally the right to use it for irrigation for your own use as long as you do not dam or channel the water for this purpose and it is only extracted from below the normal water level. You also have the right to protect your property from flooding (it is not specified how!) and to prevent erosion of the watercourse banks!


Not a great trade off!

John and I are aware that many of the residents affected by this are elderly and are in the process of trying to arrange some community activity to assist some of them.
If you wish to read further these documents will clarify and expand the above information.

• The Public Health Act 1936
• The Land Drainage Acts of 1991 &1994
• Water Resources Act 1991
• National Rivers Authority (now the Environment Agency) Land Drainage Byelaws 1981
• Flooding and Water Management Act



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