If you own land or property next to or over a river, stream, ditch or culvert/pipe that forms part of a watercourse, you are legally termed a ‘riparian landowner’ for that section of watercourse through your land.
If your land boundary immediately adjoins a watercourse, it is assumed under Common Law that you own up to the centre of the watercourse and have joint riparian ownership responsibilities with the opposite landowner, unless there is evidence (for example property deeds) that the watercourse is owned by someone else.
All riparian landowners, regardless of the length of the watercourse they occupy or their personal circumstances, have the same rights and responsibilities in managing a watercourse.
Your rights as a riparian owner:
Your responsibilities as a riparian owner:
Regardless of whether you own the watercourse or not, you will legally require land drainage consent to fill in, obstruct, divert or pipe a section of watercourse. You may also need consent for erecting any other structures such as dams, weirs or other obstacles in the watercourse.
To undertake any of the works above, you are strongly advised to read the land drainage consent web page and then contact our Projects Water and Flood Risk Management Team. An officer will then advise on the correct course of action to take in order to apply for the correct consent.
We do not own any watercourses except those that flow through land owned by us. For these sections of watercourse, we have riparian owner rights and responsibilities like any other riparian landowner. For all other watercourses in the city, the responsibility to maintain the watercourses rests with the private riparian landowner and we have no duty to maintain them.
We have permissive powers under Section 25 of the Land Drainage Act to enter land to undertake emergency works to mitigate flooding/flood risk. Permissive powers would only be exercised under extreme circumstances. We would only consider exercising our permissive powers once all other forms of communication have been exhausted.
We can help with opening discussions with any offending riparian landowners and the issue will often be solved by informing and educating them on their riparian duties. If you require any advice, support or if you have any issues surrounding the maintenance of a watercourse then you are advised to contact the Projects, Water and Flood Risk Management Team.
The correct level of maintenance of watercourses varies from site to site depending on local conditions and characteristics; however an important aim should be to ensure the proper flow of water by preventing obstructions, whilst maintaining a habitable and amenable space for wildlife. Suggested maintenance activities include:
A culvert is a watercourse that has been enclosed in a structure such as a pipe, but does not include sewers. Whilst you as a riparian landowner have the responsibility to maintain your culvert, you risk injury, drowning or becoming trapped by going into a culvert. Culverts are confined spaces that can contain various noxious gases, so only trained and properly equipped people should go inside them. You are strongly advised to call in a professional organisation to undertake culvert maintenance.
You should not, under any circumstances, put yourself at risk whilst maintaining watercourses. Where necessary, a professional and fully trained contractor should be sought to carry out the work on your behalf.