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Culverts and ordinary watercourses

Main rivers and ordinary watercourses

Main rivers such as the River Wear, Don, Lumley Park Burn, Usworth Burn and parts of Moors Burn are the responsibility of the Environment Agency. The main river map can be viewed using this link. All other watercourses are known as Ordinary watercourses. Ordinary Watercourses are often smaller watercourses and they can be found across our city region.

Riparian Ownership

The responsibility to look after ordinary watercourses (including keeping it clear of debris) is described in the Land Drainage Act 1991 as the owner of the land over or adjacent to the watercourse - the Riparian owner.  Sunderland City Council are the Riparian owner adjacent to public land. Residents should be aware that they are most likely the responsible Riparian owner if a watercourse or culvert is adjacent to or under their property. See Owning a watercourse for more information


Culverted watercourses are sections of watercourses that run underground and the structures that they run through are called culverts. There are many culverts across the city region some are over 1km long and some are no wider than a road. Some culverts are only just being rediscovered today. Like the ordinary watercourses some culverts are in private land and some even run under private properties. Some culverts have protective screens.

Sunderland City Council have authority through the Land Drainage Act to request (and where necessary in extreme circumstances to serve "Notice" on) Riparian owners to undertake their responsibilities. According to law if the works are not undertaken the Council can undertake necessary works and charge the responsible owner.

Watercourse consents

Where people intend to do work to ordinary watercourses Land Drainage Consent is required under the Land Drainage Act (i.e. changes to ordinary watercourse). Sometimes this is more commonly known as watercourse consent.  Forms and guidance can be found on our Planning for water - Drainage, SuDS, Flood risk and guidance.

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