According to a story in a Sunday newspaper the Kennet & Avon Canal will be closed this summer and hire boat holidays for disabled people will have to be cancelled — and the story says that the River Kennet is now completely reliant on treated sewage for water supply in its upper reaches.
Writing in the Sunday Times, the paper's Environment Editor, Jonathan Leake quotes an unnamed Environment Agency source as warning that the current 'drought situation' will prompt a range of potential restrictions on activities such as angling and boating.
He goes on to say: "The situation around the Kennet is certain to mean closure of the Kennet & Avon Canal to boating traffic, ruining holidays and damaging businesses that rely on boating traffic."
|K&A Canal Trust President David Bruce|
These alarming predictions are supported by the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust President, David Bruce, who founded and is still active in running the Great Bedwyn based Bruce Trust that runs specially designed boats for disabled people and their families to take boating holidays — he told the paper: "The Trust's four boats, which provide holidays for 600 disabled people each year, may be forced to cancel all its bookings — this drought is a tragedy in the making."
He explained that British Waterways has replaced pumps on the canal and done work so that 'off-the-shelf' replacement pumps can be brought into use in under 24-hours if the need arises.
However, Mark Stephens did sound a note of warning when he said: "The Kennet end of the canal will prove harder to maintain and is dependent on a groundwater supply that is at a very low level. With everyone around the canal appreciating the importance of conserving water we fully intend to sustain the canal environment for the enjoyment of our visitors and to safeguard the important habitats that it supports."
Russell Fletcher a hire boat operator based at Lower Foxhangers and Chairman of the Kennet & Avon Canal Trade Association says that over the last few months their organisation has been monitoring and supporting BW in planning for any potential impact this year from water supply shortages.
"The problem in a nutshell," he said, "is the overall low levels of aquifers that indirectly supply water for the K&A Canal."
Russell is emphatic that the canal is very much open for business as usual, but he calls on canal users to save water wherever possible by sharing locks and closing paddles after use.
The Trade Association also supports the use of volunteer lock keepers at Bath, Bradford on Avon and Crofton and they hope that there will be additional lock keepers at Seend, Semington and Kintbury if enough volunteers can be found.
He said that other waterways are already being affected by the drought — and to reduce lock demand and conserve reservoir levels the South East Waterways are imposing 10am - 2pm and 10am - 3pm restrictions in some places including the Southern Oxford Canal and the Grand Union Canal.
Russell said: "Since Autumn 2011 BW has been working hard behind the scenes on the issue of low water supply both nationally and locally and identifying where the highest impacted areas are likely to be.
"The Winter maintenance programme along the K&A has included replacing pumps and lock gates as well as canal bank leak reduction work… and the Waterway Manager, Mark Stephens, managed to get an extra £250,000 for the K&A from a central BW fund this year."
A boat owner who moors his boat on the K&A on the Long Pound near Pewsey said, "We are no strangers to water problems on the K&A — we have suffered them for most of the 25 years I have kept a boat on the canal and BW must understand that boaters will always respond positively to realistic water conservation measures that will keep the canal open for private boaters and the many people who come to enjoy our canal as visiting boater owners or hirers.
"Ask us to conserve water by sharing locks, accepting evening to dawn lock closures and we will be happy to cooperate — but BW have to keep us informed of the situation."