Responsibility for rivers, streams, culverts, and canals
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Who is responsible for 'watercourses'?
This page will tell you who to contact if you want to report a problem on a watercourse, or work in or near a watercourse.
A 'watercourse' can be a:
- mill stream
- culvert (an underground structure that water can flow through)
Pollution and environmental damage
Contact us about pollution or environmental issues on all watercourses.
- unusual changes in the flow of water
- unauthorised changes or damage to watercourses (for instance, straightening channels, dredging, changes to the channel bed or banks)
Reporting flooding or blockages on main rivers
Contact us about incidents on 'main rivers'. Main rivers are usually larger rivers or streams.
- flooding on a main river
- blockages which could cause flooding to main rivers
- flooding from the sea
When to report incidents to your local authority
Contact your local authority to report incidents that don't involve main rivers:
- damage to road bridges or road culverts
- blocked bridges or culverts on 'ordinary watercourses' (any river that is not a main river)
- problems with public footpaths along a river
Contact us about pollution, dead fish, any work such as digging and moving gravel and stones, or any other environmental issues on all watercourses.
If you own a watercourse
You have a responsibility for the stretch of watercourse you own. Find out more about owning a watercourse.
Canals and tow paths
If you spot a problem with the canal network, like maintenance of tow paths or blockages, contact the Canal and Rivers Trust
Report pollution to us.
Blocked drains in the road
If you find a blocked or collapsed drain or water leaking in the road or path, contact your local authority.
Burst water main
Contact your water company.
You can check our website for immediate and longer-term flood risk
You can also sign up to get flood warnings by phone or text if your property is at risk of flooding.
Working near a watercourse (flood risk activity permit)
Discharging water or effluent
You must apply for a water discharge permit to discharge (release) contaminated water or sewage effluent into:
- any watercourse
- some lakes and ponds
To discharge to groundwater you must apply for a groundwater permit.
Abstracting or impounding water
You will need to apply for a licence to abstract (take) or impound (hold) water from:
- a river or stream
- a reservoir, lake or pond
- a canal
- a spring
- a dock, channel, creek, bay, estuary or arm of the sea
There are some exemption however. Find out if you need a licence.
If you are 13 or over, you need a valid rod licence to fish for salmon, trout, freshwater fish, smelt or eel in Wales.