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22 January 2020
Do You Have a Watercourse adjacent to Your Property? 

Do You Have a Watercourse adjacent to Your Property?  If so you may be a riparian owner.

What is a riparian owner?

A riparian owner is someone who owns property which is next to a watercourse or has a watercourse running through it. Under common law, riparian owners have certain rights and responsibilities relating to the stretch of watercourse that flows through, or alongside, their land. Some riparian owners may not realise that they are responsible for maintaining the ditch at the bottom of their garden. Riparian owners have certain rights, but are also legally obliged to fulfil certain responsibilities under laws enacted to help manage flood risk and protect the environment.

Riparian owner rights

1. Riparian owners have the right to receive a flow of water in its natural state, without interference in quantity or quality. If you think that landowners upstream or downstream have altered or redirected the watercourse you share, and that this is affecting the flow of water through your land, you may wish to contact Bedford Borough Council’s Flood Risk Officer on 01234 718523 for advice.

2. Riparian owners have the right to protect their property from flooding from the watercourse and to prevent erosion of the watercourse banks. For most works within 8 metres of a watercourse you must apply for formal consent from the Environment Agency. An ‘ordinary watercourse’ is any channel through which water flows (such as a river, stream, brook, beck or a ditch) and which is not defined as a ‘main river’ by the Environment Agency. The Environment Agency manages the maintenance of ‘main rivers’.

Riparian Owner Responsibilities

1. To maintain the watercourse and to clear any obstructions (natural or otherwise) so the normal flow of water is not impeded. It is the responsibility of the riparian owner to clear any debris from their stretch of the watercourse.

2. To maintain any approved structures on your stretch of the watercourse. These may include culverts and weirs. If a riparian owner wishes to build a new structure (for example, a boardwalk) that goes across the watercourse or alters the flow of water, then permission should be received from Bedford Borough Council and/or the Environment Agency.

3. To maintain the banks and bed of the watercourse (including any trees and shrubs growing on the banks). Riparian owners must not alter or divert the water flow without permission as this might affect properties downstream.

4. To accept the natural flow from upstream neighbours and transfer it downstream without obstruction, pollution or diversion. A riparian owner must accept flood water through their land, even if high water levels are caused by inadequate capacity downstream.

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