Published: 09 November 2017
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Riparian Owner Responsibilities
If you own land or property next to a watercourse you are a ‘riparian landowner’. A watercourse is… every river, stream, brook, ditch, drain, culvert, pipe and any other passage through which water may flow. A watercourse can be either natural or man-made. Watercourses drain the land, prevent flooding and assist in supporting flora and fauna. In normal conditions a watercourse may be a dry channel in the ground; in heavy storm conditions it may become a raging torrent. The responsibility for maintenance of ordinary watercourses lies with anyone who owns land or property adjacent to a watercourse. This is known as Riparian Ownership.
How much of the watercourse am I responsible for?
If both banks of a watercourse run through (or under) your land, you are fully responsible for its maintenance. If a bank runs adjacent to your land (even if it does not fall within your property boundary as set out by your Title Deeds e.g. if it is the other side of a boundary fence) then you are likely to be responsible for the maintenance of the watercourse bank on your side, to halfway across the bottom of the watercourse.
What are my responsibilities as a riparian owner?
The riparian responsibilities under law are:
· To pass on water flow without obstruction, pollution or diversion that would affect the rights of others.
· To maintain the banks and bed of the watercourse (including any trees and shrubs growing on the banks) and any flood defences that exist on it.
· To maintain any approved structures on their stretch of the watercourse and keep them free of debris. These may include trash screens, culverts, weirs and mill gates.
· Riparian Owners must not build new structures (for example a culvert, bridge or board walk) that encroach upon the watercourse, or alter the flow of water or prevent the free passage of fish without first obtaining permission from the Lead Local Flood Authority (Surrey County Council) or Environment Agency.
For more information, please see the Government Guidance on owning a watercourse.