Letter to Mark Stephens (new waterway manager) regarding maintenance of adequate water levels on the canal

Email sent to BW Gloucester 24 October 2009

Dear Mark,

firstly I would like to welcome you to your new position as waterway manager for the Kennet & Avon Canal.

Water Shortage on the K & A

As a license holder (Standard Canal & River License) who cruises the west end of the Kennet & Avon, I would like to bring to your attention the problem of water shortage on the canal.

I have cruised this canal over the last decade from end to end and can confirm that water depth has become a serious problem only recently.

Bath to Bradford-on-Avon

Due to the profile of the concrete lining added to the canal from Bath to Bradford-on-Avon, the level of water in this pound is critical to boaters cruising boats with deeper drafts. If the level drops just a few inches it makes it difficult for such boats to navigate the stretch without significant contact with the concrete bottom. Boats may scrape their bottoms or even become stuck. Mooring within a reasonable proximity to the bank can become impossible.

Where debris collects in the concrete lined section, depth is reduced still and the problem is exacerbated. An example of this is on the Winsley Bridge to Avoncliffe stretch where both large rocks and logs have tumbled into the canal and settled on the bottom. Some dredging was undertaken in this stretch last spring and improved the cruisability of the stretch but there remains debris in the canal and on the bank waiting to enter the canal.

I have had previous correspondence with John Ward regarding the possibility of increasing water depth in this section and he has not supported this suggestion.

This year (2009) the issue has actually become worse. Water levels have dropped below the critical level and many boats have experienced difficulties cruising this stretch. I have witnessed even ‘new build’ boats seriously grounded on their moorings due to water shortage. I understand that the shortage is due to maintenance required to the pumps at Bradford lock (?) that has not been completed.

Bradford-on Avon Going East

Additionally, I have found the Bradford-on-Avon to Semington pound to be very low and have stuck solid under the bridge at Hilperton. An associate has damaged his rudder due to lack of water above Semington. I have heard from trading boats that the canal has been short of water even as far as Newbury.

Spending Priorities

Many of the boats with deeper drafts are the historic/classic boats that visitors to the canal come to see and as such add to the wider canal experience. As older boats, contact with a concrete lining or hard debris is significant as it can cause additional wear to hull’s that should be treated with respect.

Where dredging has not been pursued or pumps have not been maintained, cruising become a serious problem for such boats on the K & A generally.

Please can you assure me that maintaining of water levels will be a priority for BW spending on the K & A. It is most frustrating when one pays for a license to cruise a waterway and then finds that progress in inhibited by lack of water. I am aware that there are many pressures on your budgets but, to me, the maintaining of the navigation is the absolute main role of the authority and is how I prefer my license money to be spent.

Yours sincerely,

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