The Land Drainage Act 1991
What is riparian ownership?
Riparian ownership is a term used in relation to land law and watercourses. Most rivers, streams and ditches are the responsibility of the riparian landowners who own land on either bank. If your property is adjacent to a watercourse of any description, you are a riparian owner and should be maintaining it regularly. This will have the benefit of reducing the risk of flooding from the watercourse at times of wet weather, both for you and your neighbours. The diagram below, even if the Title Deeds for Owner A’s property show the boundary to be the fence; they have riparian rights and responsibilities to the centre of the watercourse.
As a riparian owner, you have certain rights and responsibilities in relation to the watercourse flowing through or adjacent to your property. These riparian rights are based on common law and have been defined as a result of legal cases over many years. These rights are not absolute and you may in any event have to obtain consent for work from the Environment Agency.
You may own land up to the centre of the watercourse
You have the right to receive flow of water in its natural state, without undue interference in quantity or quality
You have the right to protect your property from flooding, and your land from erosion
You have the right to fish in your watercourse, although this must be by legal methods and with an Environment Agency rod licence
You can abstract a maximum of 20 cubic metres per day of water for the domestic purposes of your own household or for agricultural use, excluding spray irrigation, from a watercourse at a point which directly adjoins your land without the need for a licence. Most other types of abstraction will require a licence from the Environment Agency.
These rights are modified by your duty of care to other riparian owners, the rest of the community and to the environment - that is, you must not do anything which harms or affects others.
Before starting any work on, in or adjacent to a watercourse, you must submit the plans of any work to the Environment Agency to determine whether you require land drainage consent or discharge licence. Environmental issues, including flood risk, wildlife conservation, fisheries, reshaping of the river and landscape, must all be considered.
You have the responsibility to pass on flow without obstruction, pollution or diversion affecting the rights of others
You have the responsibility to accept flood flows through your land, even if caused by inadequate capacity downstream, as there is no common law duty to improve a watercourse
You have the responsibility for maintaining the bed and banks of the watercourse (including trees and shrubs growing on the banks) and for clearing any debris, natural or otherwise, including litter and animal carcasses, even if it did not originate from your land.
You must not cause any obstructions to the free passage of fish
You are responsible for keeping the bed and banks clear from any matter that could cause an obstruction either on your land, or by being washed away by high flow to obstruct at a structure downstream. Watercourses and their banks should not be used for the disposal of any form of garden or other waste.
You have the responsibility for protecting your property from seepage through natural or man-made banks. Where such seepage threatens the structural integrity of a flood defence, it may become the concern of the Environment Agency.
(Reproduced from the Environment Agency publication ‘Living on the Edge’)
The role of the Environment Agency
The Environment Agency has statutory powers to require main rivers to be maintained and if necessary can enforce the required work at the expense of the owner(s).
The role of Internal Drainage Boards (IDB’s)
IDB’s have statutory powers to maintain and, if necessary, can enforce the required work at the expense of the owner(s).
The role of Lincolnshire County Council Highways
Lincolnshire County Council Highways Authority is responsible for the effective drainage of surface water falling onto the highway.