Riparian Ownership

Riparian Ownership

Are you a Riparian Owner? Do you know what your legal responsibilities are?

If you have a watercourse, ditch, stream, river, pond or culvert on, or next to your land then you are a Riparian Owner. You are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the watercourses to ensure they do not become a flood risk to people, or property.

Common problems affecting watercourses are… 

  • Allowing silt to build up, which can reduce the capacity of, or block, watercourses.
  • Failing to keep vegetation growth under control.
  • Disposal or storage of garden or domestic rubbish or waste on the banks of watercourses.
  • Failing to clear the entrances to piped watercourses.
  • Failing to obtain consent for any building, planting or alterations within eight (8) metres of the bank. 

The Land Drainage Act 1991 sets out the legal responsibilities of Riparian owners such as yourself. These include: 

  • To pass on water flow without obstruction, pollution or diversion that would affect the rights of others.
  • To maintain the banks and bed of the watercourse (including any trees, or shrubs growing on the banks) and any flood defence that exists on it.
  • To maintain any approved structures on their stretch of the water course and keep them free of debris. These may include trash screens, culverts, weirs and mill gates.
  • Riparian owners must not build new structures (for example a culvert, bridge, or board walk) that encroach upon the watercourse or alter the flow of water or prevent the free passage of fish, without first obtaining permission from the Local Authority, or Environment Agency.
  • Allowing silt to build up, which can reduce the capacity of, or block, watercourses.
  • Failing to keep vegetation growth under control.
  • Disposal or storage of garden or domestic rubbish or waste on the banks of watercourses.
  • Failing to clear the entrances to piped watercourses.
  • Failing to obtain consent for any building, planting, or alterations within eight (8) meters of the bank. 

Consider the Riparian legal responsibilities of these seven houses (A – G). Can you identify with any of them?

Ditches running alongside a main road

The ditch by my property runs alongside a main road. Is it the responsibility of West Sussex County Council to manage it?

The County Council and Highways Agency, in their role as Highways Authority, have the right to discharge rainwater from the highway into the ditch. However, the adjacent landowner is responsible for maintaining it.

The Riparian Owner for any ditches running alongside a road is normally the adjoining landowner.

However, if the Highways Agency has created, or piped, the ditch specifically under their highway powers, they become responsible for its maintenance. Most pipes and culverts beneath the highway and bridging over water courses are the responsibility of the County Council.