Land drainage

Who is responsible for land drainage?

In most circumstances, landowners are legally responsible for any surface water drainage features on, or adjacent to, their land.

Such features can be natural watercourses, such as rivers and streams, or man-made features, such as ditches, drains, culverts (piped watercourses) and sluices etc. Any landowners with any such features on, or adjacent to, their land are legally defined as 'riparian landowners' under the Land Drainage Act 1991 (as amended). As a riparian landowner you have certain rights and responsibilities.

Watercourse responsibilities

There are a number of different categories of watercourse and the category can affect where maintenance responsibilities lie:

Main river

Main rivers are watercourses that have been specifically classified by the Environment Agency for their strategic drainage importance.

Responsibilities lie with the riparian landowner(s) and enforcement is undertaken by the Environment Agency.

Ordinary watercourse

These are watercourses that have not been specifically classified as main rivers by the Environment Agency. Ordinary watercourses may be open ditches or culverted (piped) watercourses.

Responsibilities lie with the riparian landowner(s) and enforcement is undertaken by Adur and Worthing Councils/ West Sussex County Council.

Adur & Worthing Councils have 'permissive powers' to help ensure that:

  • watercourses are properly maintained, across the district
  • riparian landowners abide by the law and undertake their riparian responsibilities

Sustainable drainage systems

These are surface water drainage systems designed and installed to drain surface water from a developed area. Responsibilities can lie with the developer, landowner or a management company.

Other drainage

For information on highways gullies and drains and sewers please see our drains, sewers and gullies page.

Altering, infilling or culverting an ordinary watercourse

Any works to change the flow, erect a culvert or bridge or create an obstruction in any ordinary watercourse requires our prior written consent.

You can apply for consent to undertake any of these actions by completing and submitting a consent application:

Altering, infilling or culverting a watercourse will impact the free flow of water, and may leave you liable should a flood occur as a result of your actions.

Reporting a problem with an ordinary watercourse

Debris, overgrown vegetation and other blockages in a watercourse can prevent the free flow of water.

If you are concerned about the condition of a watercourse you can report it to us to investigate by emailing:

Managing flood risk

If you are a householder, landowner or business owner you may have responsibilities regarding managing your own flood risk.

For more information please see:

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Page last updated: 20 August 2021

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