From August 1 closure notices have been enforced on the Rochdale Canal between Sowerby Bridge, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden; the Huddersfield Narrow Canal that passes through Slaithwaite and Marsden; and a Lancashire stretch of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal up to where it enters Yorkshire at Gargrave, near Skipton.
All are popular with leisure craft in the summer months and the closures will lead to cancellations of trips and boating holidays.
Low water levels mean the canals cannot support navigation traffic.
A statement from the Canal and River Trust read: "A combination of a dry spring that has continued into a hot, dry summer, and essential reservoir repairs across the region, have meant the amount of available water was already less than usual, causing water supplies in the north to drop to historically low levels.
"Closures are now in place on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and the Rochdale Canal. Whilst this is not the first time that Canal & River Trust has been forced to put closures in place due to water shortage, this is the most extensive set of closures and restrictions on the Trust’s waterways in Yorkshire in recent years.
"Earlier in the year, the Trust introduced restricted use of several lock flights at the start of April, and volunteer lock keepers have been helping to manage boat traffic at lock flights to ensure water supplies are used as efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, despite these water saving measures, the lack of rain meant the reservoirs have not had a chance to refill and there is not enough water to supply the canals.
"The Trust is continuing the ongoing water saving repair works to increase all available water flows into the canal network. The towpaths remain open and boaters will still be able to cruise the stretches between the closed locks, provided there are no localised issues with maintaining enough water supply for safe navigation."
The Trust's chief executive Julie Sharman added: “The heatwave was the last thing we wanted. We know how important this wonderful part of the canal network is to boaters and we’re incredibly disappointed that we were forced to introduce further restrictions at the beginning of August. Unfortunately, the ongoing essential repair works at our reservoirs to safeguard them for the extreme weather that is likely to become more common due to climate change, coupled with far less rainfall than we needed, have meant that there just isn’t enough water for navigation. We will be carefully watching how the reservoirs refill and will open the locks as soon as possible.
“We’ve been carrying out a significant amount of water saving maintenance work over the past few years. In the longer term, once all our reservoirs are repaired and able to refill, it will improve the resilience of the canals. This is more important than ever as long dry spells are becoming the new normal.
“While this is currently affecting our northern waterways, we’re asking boaters across the whole country, with the help of volunteer lock keepers, to be even more careful than usual to conserve water. Boaters can help by sharing locks where possible and making sure paddles are fully closed after use.”
The canals affected
Rochdale Canal: Navigation will close from Lock 1 to Lock 45 on 1 August. To conserve as much water as possible and prevent navigation through these locks, the locks will be padlocked closed and secured against operation.
Bookings already in place for the Summit lock flight and between Tuel Lane Lock and Lock 9 will be honoured and go ahead as booked.
Passage through Lock 9 to Hebden Bridge Services will be open Wednesdays and Saturdays only, 10am - 2pm, for access to local essential services.
Please ensure you have sufficient time to use the services in time for the 2pm lock closure. As the situation with water levels progress, we may need to change to a booking system through this lock, at which point an update to the notice would be issued.
Huddersfield Narrow Canal: Despite restrictions imposed on the 9 May, and the work we have done to manage water supplies carefully, the very low rainfall we have experienced across the region, and hence the diminishing reservoir levels, means we have no option but to close the Huddersfield Narrow Canal as we are unable to provide enough water to accommodate boat movements. The closure will commence on the 1 August.
We will continue to assess water resources and advise on reopening when supplies are sufficient to ensure boat passage.
If you are booked through Standedge Tunnel up to and including 27 July, your tunnel passage will be fulfilled. From this date, all other existing Standedge Tunnel bookings will be cancelled during the period of the closure.
Leeds & Liverpool Canal: Despite some recent rainfall, it has not been enough to impact on the reservoir holdings that supply the Leeds & Liverpool canal and navigation remains closed on Bank Newton Locks (41 to 36) Gargrave (Holme Bridge Lock 30).
Whilst these closures will prevent use of the lock flights, cruising between the locks will remain available.
Bingley 5 & 3 Rise Locks and Newlay, Forge and Kirkstall Locks remain open. Surface water feeders to the Skipton pound are providing a sufficient feed to support the canal from this point down.
Our teams will continue to monitor our reservoir holdings and surface water feeders and we will provide updates on the water position throughout the closed period.