Land Drainage

Flooding of property by surface water

Flooding of property by surface water is normally a result of heavy or continuous rainfall which is unable to drain to the land drainage ditches and watercourses in the area.  It is generally not linked to the operation of the foul sewerage system but can, on occasions, result in cesspools and small sewage treatment works becoming flooded causing pollution. The fault, if there is any, may be the lack of maintenance of the drainage systems that serve the area.

Essex County Council is responsible for dealing with flooding from surface water and local flooding issues across the county affecting people and property. It is also a Highway Authority, responsible for the drainage of highways.


Tel: 08457 430 430

Land Drainage

Land drainage is the disposal of rainwater, achieved by a network of watercourses of various types including main rivers, some of which may be piped or culverted.  Generally it is the responsibility of Essex County Council for all ordinary watercourses within the District.


How do I decide who to contact?

Essex County Council team

The Essex County Council flood and water management team is divided into two functions: Flood Risk Management for surface water flooding; and Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS).

The Flood Risk Management function is concerned with flood investigations, ordinary watercourse regulation and consent, development of flood risk management plans and strategies including funding applications, improvement / alleviation projects and asset management.

The SuDs function focuses on providing pre-application advice on surface water drainage, commenting on planning applications involving SuDS (currently over 1ha) and setting up the future SuDS Approval Body.

Essex County Council website

Main Rivers and Critical Ordinary Watercourses

Major watercourses and rivers such as Holland Brook, Pickers Ditch, Ramsey River and Tenpenny Brook in Thorrington are designated "main rivers". These are under the direct control of the Environment Agency and the Agency is the relevant Operating Authority. The Agency is also responsible for ‘Critical Ordinary Watercourses’. All enquiries relating to the operation of main rivers and ‘Critical Ordinary Watercourses, should be referred to the Agency.

The Environment Agency is responsible for dealing with coastal flooding and flooding from main rivers. 

Environment Agency -    Email

Ordinary Watercourses

Almost all other watercourses, including streams, ditches (whether dry or not), ponds, culverts, drains, pipes and any other passage through which water may flow, are defined as "ordinary watercourses." In the case of ordinary watercourses, you should contact Essex County Council.

Surface Water Sewers

These are the responsibility of the sewerage undertaker, Anglian Water. These sewers are shown on the public sewer plans and Anglian Water can be contacted on 08457 145145.

Highway Drainage

Drains which drain public highways only and are maintained by Essex County Council or the Highways Agency, the highway authority. Essex County Council is responsible for the drainage of all public highways in the Tendring area. The highway contact details are: Report a highways problem online or 0345 603 7631

What about ditches and watercourses?

Who owns them?

The owner of land or property adjacent to a ditch or watercourse is known in legal terms as the "riparian owner". Often the watercourse will form the boundary between two properties and the deeds may indicate a single owner. If not both adjacent owners have equal responsibilities as riparian owners. The Land Drainage Act 1991 requires that a watercourse be maintained by its owner in such a condition that the free flow of water is not impeded. The owner must accept the natural flow from upstream but need not carry out work to cater for increased flows resulting from some types of works carried out upstream, for example a new housing development.

Who enforces the maintenance of a watercourse?

If an owner fails to carry out his responsibilities under the Land Drainage Act, or if anyone else causes a watercourse to become blocked or obstructed, Essex County Council has powers of enforcement by serving a notice under section 28 of the Act. If this is ignored, the Council concerned may carry out the necessary work itself and then recharge the person responsible for the full cost incurred. The County Council normally implements these powers and will deal with problems that affect the highway. The person responsible may also be prosecuted for nuisance under the Public Health Act 1936.

Who controls piping or work adjacent to a watercourse?

Anyone wishing to carry out work in, over or adjacent to an ordinary watercourse must apply for consent from Essex County Council and/or the Environment Agency, so that the proposals can be assessed for their effect on the drainage network and the environment.

If you wish to place or construct anything, such as a dam, weir, headwall or culvert, which may affect the flow in a watercourse, you must obtain the written consent of the Environment Agency and Essex County Council. The offices to which you should apply will depend upon where you live.  Email

Should you wish to pipe, bridge or cover an ordinary watercourse, you must submit details of your proposals and obtain consent in writing from Essex County Council. The current policy of the Environment Agency is to resist the piping of ditches in order to retain wildlife habitats. The consideration of an application will also take into account the fact that, while a pipe may allow the flow of water, it is not able to provide the storage capacity of an open ditch in times of heavy rain and may be more difficult to maintain. Email

These consents are in addition to any planning or building regulation approvals you may need.

Discharges to a watercourse

Certain discharges to watercourses require the consent of the Environment Agency, which will be able to advise you on this subject. These discharges include outfalls from septic tanks and private sewerage treatment plants.


If you feel a watercourse may be polluted you should contact the Environment Agency or the District Council's Pollution team, who are based at the Weeley offices.


If you propose to discharge surface water from a new building or development into an existing watercourse you may be required to make improvements downstream (to enable the watercourse to deal with any increased flow) or to provide storage to control the rate of flow from the site.

Highway water run-off

The riparian owner of any ditches alongside roads is normally the adjoining landowner, as the highway boundary invariably lies along the top of the bank closest to the road. Thus, although the road may drain into the ditch, the landowner is responsible for maintaining it.

However, if the County Council, the highway authority, have piped the ditch under their highway powers, they become responsible for its maintenance. Likewise, any pipe beneath the highway is the responsibility of the County Council. When the condition of a ditch is causing flooding on a highway it will be the County Council that takes action under the Land Drainage Act.

What do I do if I’m being flooded?

The Council can help resolve flooding problems.

Please report any incidents to or potential incidents to  Include a brief description of the incident and your name and address.

Link to Flooding Information and Advice


Last updated on: 04/02/2019 - 11:42