This winter has seen a substantial amount of maintenance and inspection work done by Glandwr Cymru, (the Canal & River Trust in Wales, CRT). This has included repairs to bridges, repairs to leaking culverts, leak repairs to the canal bank, towpath maintenance, and repairs to the canal lining in several places. This has included a repair to a substantial leak at Brynich.
We are pleased to see that this work is being done by CRT and we always welcome investment in the canal infrastructure. We are well aware of the complexity and cost of maintaining a canal like the Mon & Brec and we are grateful for the work by CRT and their contractors.
However, this winter work has had a dramatic impact on boaters and businesses dependent on the canal. To facilitate the maintenance work program water flow was stopped from entering the canal from the River Usk at Brecon. The majority of water feeding the canal comes from the Usk. A smaller proportion of water comes into the canal from various small streams and also as run-off from adjacent fields. January and February 2023 have been much drier than usual. The result of the combined reduction of water into the canal has meant that the canal has been much lower – for example up to 50cm lower than normal at Llangattock and almost empty in other sections. The locks at Llangynidr have also been without water for long periods of time.
The result of this lack of water has meant that for many boaters the canal has been un-navigable for weeks. This has resulted in boaters being unable to use their boats, and continuous cruisers have been unable to move to meet their licence obligations. The lack of water has also meant that many businesses have been adversely affected. Boat hire companies have not been able to move their boats to check and maintain them. Marina based services have not been able to put boats in and out of the water for maintenance.
We have been in contact with CRT through several of our contacts in the past few weeks to discuss options as to how the impact could be reduced. This included our Chairman the Revd. John Collier offering to arrange a meeting between CRT and concerned boaters. We are disappointed that our suggestion to host a meeting to discuss canal users issues was not accepted by CRT. CRT suggested that boaters could raise their concerns at the annual user forum meeting held each autumn.
CRT have now advised (10th March 2023) that all winter works have been completed and they are in the process of refilling the canal over the next few days. They advise that there will be fluctuations in levels as this continues. They are currently taking as much water as they are permitted to from the River Usk and are monitoring this daily to make appropriate adjustments. The section to Talybont (bridge 146) is being filled first, and they expect the next section, Talybont to the Llangynidr locks, to start filling over the weekend. The locks will then fill in succession. CRT have left stop planks in at bridge 120 to help manage the refilling process and they expect water to start passing beyond these early this week (13th March). They anticipate normal navigational levels will be restored along the length of the canal by the end of the day on 17th March.
Many canal users are of the view that better planning of the work program could have reduced the impact of the stoppages on canal users, and that there was also an over-reliance on water from streams and field run-off to keep the canal levels up. There did not appear to be any contingency in place to pump water past stoppages. Doing so could have reduced the impact downstream from specific stoppages. However, we do understand that whilst piping a supply past a de-watered short section is a practical option, it is not feasible for much longer sections which can be several miles long.
We believe that clear and regular communication from CRT would have done much to alleviate the impact of this year’s work program on canal users and businesses.
We hope that future winter stoppages are done in such a way to avoid the impact we have seen this year.
Update: Friday 17th March, CRT has now advised that the canal is full to normal levels and that the canal is open to navigation.
Photo of canal maintenance near bridge 125 by Lance Tucker. Other photos by MBACT volunteers. Feature photo at top of this post shows boats aground at Herons Rest Marina, March 2023.