Diverting A Water-Course

Environment Agency policy is that no watercourse should be diverted unless there is an overriding need to do so. This is because:

the ecology of the watercourse is likely to be degraded by diverting;

diverting introduces an increased risk of blockage (with consequent increase in flood risk);

it can complicate maintenance because access into the culvert is restricted (in some cases being classified as a confined space and requiring trained operatives and specialist equipment).

A blockage in a culvert can be very difficult to remove and likely to result in a severe flood   For these reasons the provision of a screen at the entrance to the culvert is often considered. Such a screen eliminates the risk of a blockage inside a culvert, but introduces a significant maintenance obligation (to ensure that the screen is kept clean) which far exceeds the typical maintenance requirements of an open watercourse.

Alternatives to diverting include:

  • Construction of a bridge – much lower impact on the watercourse hydraulics and ecology;
  • Constructing the infrastructure elsewhere – often not a practical option;
  • Diverting the watercourse – this has its own disadvantages but also some opportunities for environmental and hydraulic improvement;
  • For small streams, constructing a ford.


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