Land drainage  

Water originating from groundwater, springs and run-off from fields gather to form watercourses. Watercourses may be classified as either main rivers or ordinary watercourses and can be in the form of rivers, streams, ditches and underground pipes (sometimes called culverts). Main rivers are generally the larger, arterial watercourses and are managed by the Environment Agency. We have produced a map showing the location of the main rivers in Bolton. All other watercourses not shown on this map are managed by Bolton Council. 

Watercourses may accept water from land drains, sewers carrying rainwater run-off, run-off water from highways and rainwater discharges from private property.

Under common law a landowner is the riparian owner of any watercourse within or adjacent to the boundaries of the landowner’s property. A riparian owner’s responsibilities include the maintenance of the bank and bed of his/her section of watercourse and the removal of obstruction.

The Drainage Team is responsible for implementing the council’s powers under land drainage legislation. Generally, these powers are discretionary and deal with the prevention of flooding and the maintenance of ordinary watercourses. The team also provides a consultancy and advice service for internal and external clients on drainage and watercourse matters.

The activities and services offered by the Drainage Team in relation to land drainage are summarised as follows:

  • Establishing responsibilities for the maintenance of watercourses.
  • Providing technical guidance on drainage best practice.
  • Advising landowners of work required to prevent or reduce the risk of flooding and where necessary, using enforcement powers to ensure adequate maintenance work is undertaken.
  • Examination of proposals to culvert watercourses.

The council does not accept responsibility for maintenance of watercourses on private land; this is the responsibility of the landowner.  Any Flood Defences are normally the responsibility of the land owner unless they were constructed by the Local Authority.

The Environment Agency manage the maintenance and improvement of main rivers.


Since April 2012, the consenting and enforcement responsibilities are split between Bolton Council and the Environment Agency.

There are approximately 72 miles of main rivers in Bolton, and the Environment Agency manage the flood risk from main rivers.  They will also continue to use enforcement powers, and to consent work on main rivers.  If you are proposing to undertake works near or in a main river you will need to contact the Environment Agency before undertaking the proposed works.  We have produced a map showing the location of main rivers in Bolton.

In all other locations, Bolton Council will be the consenting authority for work in watercourses.

There are many miles of smaller watercourses, known as “ordinary watercourses” in Bolton and these can be surface streams or can be underground (the latter are known as culverted watercourses). You will need written legal consent from Bolton Council to construct a culvert, alter a culverted watercourse, or construct or alter any feature that could cause an obstruction to the flow of water in an ordinary watercourse.

If you are proposing to undertake any works in an ordinary watercourse, you are advised to look at these notes and application form and the Council's Culvert Policy which demonstrates examples of scenarios where consent is and is not required. 

Pre-application notes and an enquiry form are also available; this facility will enable us to reply to your enquiry more effectively and provide you with a timely and more meaningful response. Using this facility will also give both the applicant and the Authority the opportunity to discuss and negotiate potential future works.  Any preliminary discussions with the Drainage Team on works near or on watercourses are free.  However, to administer the processing of a consent, should it be required, we are required to charge a statutory fixed fee of £50.

If you are aware of or are concerned by work being undertaken within or adjacent to an ordinary watercourse, please contact our Drainage Team who will be happy to discuss the matter further and offer advice.

In addition to consenting, Bolton Council is also responsible for carrying out enforcement action regarding ordinary watercourses. This is necessary where unlawful actions, damage or potentially damaging works have been undertaken without consent or are in contravention to an issued consent.

Other matters  

With regard to advice or any enquiries regarding flooding, please go to the Flood Defence and Watercourse Management page.

Flooding associated with main rivers should be reported to the Environment Agency by calling their Floodline 0845 988 1188. 

Pollution, damage to the environment, collapsing river banks etc associated with main rivers should be reported to the Environment Agency on their Incident Hotline 0800 807060.

External Links

Drainage Team

Floor 4

The Wellsprings

Victoria Square



Telephone 01204 336677
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