BW and Councils at odds over turbidity

A row has been simmering since the Spring about the problem of turbidity on the eastern K and A. Wiltshire Councillors have accused BW of violating the Heritage Lottery Fund contract after BW agreed with Natural England not to issue any more hire boat licences on the eastern end of the canal. Councillors and the K and A Trade Association are concerned that BW did not consult them before making this decision, which they maintain is contrary to the Heritage Lottery Fund agreement to support local economies by facilitating the development of canal-related businesses.

Turbidity is a measure of the degree to which the water loses its transparency due to the presence of suspended particulates or silt. This means there is not enough oxygen for fish to breathe or light for water plants to grow. Natural England’s main concern is that turbid canal water is polluting the River Kennet, a chalk stream. Wiltshire Council has cited a Cambridge University report stating that the problem can be solved by dredging so that boats do not stir up silt. BW’s dredging priorities are decided nationally.

In the Heritage Lottery Fund agreement, local authorities along the K and A provided match-funding for the lottery grant to complete the restoration in 2000. The agreement includes contractual obligations on BW to maintain the canal. Very little dredging has been done in the past 10 years. Local authority funding for the K and A ends in 2018. K and A Manager Mark Stephens stated in a User Group meeting on 20 October that turbidity is a complex problem and although dredging would help, there are other factors involved such as the extraction of water from the Kennet by Thames Water and silt run-off from farmland in winter.

Wiltshire Council’s objections were minuted in meetings of the Kennet and Avon (Heritage Lottery Fund) Partnership and the Kennet and Avon Trial Waterways Partnership Board. The minutes were obtained through a Freedom of Information request, made because BW had agreed last November that the Partnership Board minutes would be published on its web site but had only published minutes from one meeting. However, the minutes of most of these meetings are now on the “Listening to You/ Meetings” section of BW’s web site.

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