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: 

  • river
  • stream
  • brook
  • beck
  • ditch
  • 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.

Call our incident line on 0300 065 3000 or report online

  • pollution
  • 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.

View our map of main rivers below to check the river you're interested in. 

Call our incident line on 0300 065 3000 or report online

  • 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)

If you want to work in or near:
• main rivers
• flood defences
• sea defences
• flood plains
If you want to work in or near an 'ordinary watercourse', you may need consent from your local authority (or from us if the site is in an Internal Drainage District).
Contact us for advice before making changes to any watercourse, as these can harm the environment. 

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
  • canals
  • reservoirs

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.

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