Enforcement on watercourses | Oxfordshire County Council

Enforcement on watercourses

Enforcement on watercourse and riparian owner duties.


The aim of using enforcement action is to:

  • Ensure the proper flow of water in a watercourse and over the floodplain.
  • To control water levels and the security of existing assets.

Enforcement action may be used by a regulating body to rectify any unlawful, damaging or potentially damaging work, this is decided using a risk based approach.

What enforcement powers do we have?

We have powers under the Flood and Water Management Act (2010) with regard to the issuing of consents, enforcement against un-consented works and general enforcement of riparian owner duties on ordinary watercourses. These powers are permissive, meaning that it remains the decision of the authority as to whether it enforces or not.

When do we use these powers?

If a watercourse or feature is in need of maintenance, the council encourages the person that owns it to take remedial action.

If a riparian owner fails to carry out maintenance on a watercourse or feature the council can use its powers under the Land Drainage Act (1991) to serve notice requiring them to undertake the necessary works.  Failure to comply with such a notice may result in the council undertaking the work and recharging the owner with the costs.

Permissive powers

Permissive powers mean that we may choose to intervene in the public interest where we believe works would be beneficial and/or economically viable, but we are under no legal obligation to do so.

Who else has powers of enforcement?

  • The Environment Agency also have permissive powers under the Water Resources Act (1991) to undertake works in main river watercourses and regulate the activities of riparian owners.
  • As the Highways Authority, Oxfordshire County Council has powers under the Highways Act (1980) to ensure the public highway is effectively drained.
  • Thames Water have some powers under the Water Industry Act (1991) to ensure their assets are performing and do not pose a threat to flooding.

Riparian owner

A riparian owner is a landowner alongside a watercourse. They have to maintain the watercourse to benefit other owners, the community and environment. There is protection in place for the owner from the actions of other riparian owners. For information on rights and responsibilities can be found in the Environment Agency document - Living on the Edge.


A watercourse includes any river, stream, ditch, cut, channel (not public sewers).


If you have any concerns regarding recent works on a watercourse please contact your local council.

Last reviewed
29 January 2016
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