Skip to main content

Managing flood risk

Gostrey flooding image

Management of the flood risk from the rivers and other drainage systems in the town rests mainly with the Environment Agency and other authorities but residents with properties adjoining watercourses also have an important role to play.

A live issue

Although no serious flooding has occurred in Farnham in recent years, residents will be all too aware of disastrous floods in other parts of the country, some of them not too far away as, for example, in the case of major floods in the Thames Valley in winter 2013-14. At that time houses were inundated along the river Wey at Godalming. In Farnham there were a series of incidents which, although on a small scale, were extremely unpleasant and worrying for individuals and families affected. The lesson is to take the risk of flooding seriously.

Managing flood risk

Historically parts of the built up area of Farnham close to the River Wey were subject to flooding but after a catastrophic flood in September 1968 work was set in hand to install a two stage relief system along the river. Completed in 1971 this can be clearly seen in Gostrey Meadow and Borelli Walk and has successfully protected the town ever since. However, with increasingly severe flood incidents occurring across the country proactive management is essential. The main responsibilities are as follows: The Environment Agency is responsible for managing the flood risk along the Wey and its tributaries, all of which are classed as main rivers. This includes maintaining the flood defences in Farnham as well as such features as weirs and sluices. The agency also has permissive powers to carry out routine maintenance along these watercourses although the principal responsibility for this rests with landowners.

Surrey County Council

Surrey County Council is the lead local flood authority for the county with a range of specific responsibilities including the management of flood risk from surface water runoff or groundwater. Details are to be found in “Surrey Local Flood Risk Management Strategy” on Surrey’s website. As the Highways Authority, Surrey County Council is specifically responsible for clearing drains on public roads which includes maintenance of gullies, soakaways, ditches, channels, drains, grills and outlets. The Surrey Fire and Rescue Service is trained to deal with flood incidents including provision of assistance in clearing up

Waverley Borough Council

Waverley Borough Council has some responsibilities including flood risk management of what are termed ordinary watercourses ie those not classified as main rivers. As an example, the upper reach of The Bourne Stream is an ordinary watercourse. As the Local Planning Authority, Waverley also has responsibilities in connection with building development for which details are given in the Waverley Strategic Flood Risk Assessment 2015. Additionally, in the event of flooding, the Waverley Civil Emergency Scheme covers the Farnham area.

Thames Water

Thames Water is responsible for operating and maintaining the sewerage systems in Farnham. They are also responsible for alleviating sewer-flooding problems and responding to any incidents.

Role of residents and businesses

Many flood defence assets are owned by third parties and in these cases responsibility rests with the owner. Those owning land adjoining a watercourse are known as Riparian Owner and they have certain rights but also some important responsibilities. For details of these see Living next to a Watercourse – Your Rights and Responsibilities Responsibility for protecting property from flooding lies in the first instance with the property owner. Residents whose homes or businesses are located in areas that are at risk of flooding should consider making their own flood defence preparations. The National Flood Forum’s Blue Pages Directory is a useful independent directory of flood protection products from specialist manufacturers. When buying equipment, customers are advised to make sure items are Kite Marked.

Living next to a watercourse – your rights and responsibilities

Do you have a watercourse, such as a ditch, stream or river running through or alongside your property? If so you are probably responsible for its maintenance unless it is known that it belongs to someone else. In legal terms you are a “Riparian Owner.” If the land on the other side of the watercourse is not in your ownership you are presumed to be the joint riparian owner with the landowner on the other side. In that case each party is presumed to own up the centre line of the watercourse. Sometimes these details are included on the deeds of your property and you should check this.

As a riparian owner you have rights and responsibilities.


Your rights

To receive a flow of water in its natural state, without undue interference in quantity or quality
To protect your property against flooding and to prevent erosion pf the banks or any nearby structures
You usually have the right to fish in your watercourse. However, you must use legal methods
Without a licence, you can abstract a maximum of 20 cubic metres of water a day for the domestic purposes of your own household or for agricultural use (excluding spray irrigation).
Most other types of extraction require a licence from the Environment Agency.


Your responsibilities

To pass on flow without obstruction, pollution or diversion affecting 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 and approved structures on your stretch of the watercourse. These may include culverts, weirs and mill gates
You must not build a new structure (for example a boardwalk) that encroaches upon the watercourse or alters the flow of water without first obtaining permission from Waverley Borough Council (for Ordinary Watercourses) or the Environment Agency (for Main Rivers)

As is pointed out in the section of this site devoted to water quality and wildlife conservation, riparian owners also have responsibilities to maintain their banks and watercourse in such a way as to not to pollute the water or harm the wildlife in any way.

Implementation of legislation

As the local Lead Flood Authority, Surrey County Council (SCC) is encouraging riparian owners to work towards an effective watercourse system through a process of cooperation, liaison, advice and assistance whenever possible. However, under the Land Drainage Act 1991 all Councils have the powers to serve notice on riparian owners for the removal of any blockage to an ordinary watercourse. Should the owner fail to do so, the Council has powers to undertake the work themselves and recharge the costs to the owner. SCC will try to resolve problems through discussion in the first instance and enforcement of legislation will only be used as the last resort.

Further information

A detailed explanation for residents, including riparian issues, can be found on the Environment Agency’s website. “Living on the Edge”.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

No address available