Balancing task between demands for resources and services

Published: Thursday, 11 August 2022

THE latest accounts I can see on the CaRT website are for 2020, writes Mike Todd.

They include a line for Utilities and Water Development which covers 'income received from third parties who use the towpaths or bridges for their infrastructure cables for data, telecoms or electricity. Income from water development arises through extraction of water from the canal as well as discharges of excess water into the canal and the use of water for heating and cooling of buildings. This income has increased by 11.4% in the year due both to inflationary increases and a revised water abstraction agreement on the River Lee in London'.

Increased by over 11%

In 2020 this area of income amounted to £33.3 million—compare with £41.6 million from Boating and Mooring. As a result of a realisation of the opportunities that this resource offers to the trust, income has increased, by over 11% between 2019 and 2020. (It is not stated what proportion is for abstraction.)

Clearly, CaRT have a complex balancing task in dealing with competing demands for its resources and serviceseg the balance between cyclists and other towpath usersbut exploiting the opportunities that water offers (some pay for abstraction, others for the converse!) helps to keep licence fees lower than they otherwise would be. Without that income, boaters might have to pay almost twice as much for their usage!

Challenge the decisions made

Obviously, periods of drought, as also with floods, challenge the decisions made but it would, I suggest, be hard to justify removing the farmers' abstraction entirelyholidays versus food? At present, those who move only occasionally on the canals are not especially hit by the lack of navigation and it is the recreational use that is much more affected.

Much like gardeners have to forgo their green lawns in areas covered by hosepipe bans. (Incidentally, the quoted percentage of the network which is currently closed is more relevant to non-movers than cruisers where only one lock length closed can deny navigation of miles of canal. In the north, almost 100% is closed to through navigationno trans Pennine routes are available right now.)

Investment in reservoirs

As with the wider national issue of water supply, the question of investment in reservoirs has to be re-examined. For some while, neither the water companies nor navigation authorities have done much to extend their capacity (even reducing it in cases) and it would be interesting to know what level of investment would be needed to extend the canal network's resilience to, say, three months' zero rainfall. Could we afford that investment? What would have to be left undone in its place?

That said, the image of a farmer irrigating their fields from a canal that cannot be navigated is not, as they say, 'good optics'. Time, perhaps, for a Boaters Update to explain the situation more fully and openly with stats that are relevant to cruising boaters.