Having successfully managed pumping operations through the wettest winter on record, our focus is now on our embankment and in-channel maintenance programme. The wet and relatively warm winter has meant we’ve had to adjust our plans.

In terms of in-channel management of aquatic weed, which is particularly important to those boating on our 160km of navigable waterways, this is what to expect in 2024:

Our weed-boats are now in the water and ready for the season. We have five boats – two as weed cutters and three as weed lifters. Ideally, we form two crews, a crew of three boats generally focussed on the wider waterways and a crew of two boats focussed on the link route.

Our ability to have two crews active during a working week is dependent upon:

· Weather conditions

· Mechanical issues with the boats

· Boat crew availability and absence

To maximise what we can achieve, we are:

· Actively re-deploying members of our workforce to be part of our boat crews by using contractors for some other activities.

· Aiming to bring in, train and use additional boat operators this summer.

· Looking to maximise boat ‘cutting time’ rather than ‘travel time’. This will mean less responding to ‘hotspot’ weed-growth reports from boaters which has previously resulted in lost ‘cutting time’ and greater ‘travel time’.

· Improving our logistical and fuelling support to our boat crews.

We will endeavour to regularly post updates on our Facebook page as to where our crew(s) are within our system.

We’d love to be able to afford more boats and more operatives to manage weed growth to the standards many of those navigating our system would like. Sadly, that’s not our financial reality within boundaries of the income we receive from licence fees and from our ratepayers. Many boaters remember the days when weed growth within our system was significantly worse than it is today.

Please bear with us, as at a maximum we can only be in one or two places at a time within our 160km of navigable waterways.

As these crews will blend experienced hands with novice hands, we aim to get a crew out cutting on the wider waterways starting wc 20th May where there is less traffic. This is so they can test and perfect their teamwork before working within the narrower, busier channels.

If you see our crews in action, please wave and say hello.

The Middle Level Commissioners are responsible for the regulation on the Middle Level navigable waterways as outlined in Schedule One of the Middle Level Act (2018). This includes within marinas connected to our navigable waterways.

Regulation and enforcement are a necessary part of our role as a navigation authority and this includes for the power to remove vessels from our waterways which are unregistered, sunk, stranded, abandoned or left/moored without lawful authority.

We see removal as a last resort when dealing with unregistered vessels. Whenever possible we will work with the owners of vessels to bring them into compliance, ensuring they meet the requirements for registration which, to help ensure the safety of all who use the waterways, includes boat safety certification and insurance.

Registration income is essential for the maintenance and improvements of the navigation services we provide on our waterways. Not paying a licence fee or defaulting on payments directly affects the service we are able to provide, impacting fellow vessel owners.

The cost of removing vessels is considerable and in our experience so far rarely recoverable from absent and/or unknown owners. This is a financial burden within our navigation account that reduces our ability to deliver other navigation services and improvements.

The first version of our boat removal protocol was published on 16th October 2020 and the second version is an update based on experience and learning.

The updated protocol is available here. We would value any comments and feedback on the updated protocol before we finalise it. Please provide feedback within an email titled ‘MLC Boat removal protocol version 2; Feedback’ to admin@middlelevel.gov.uk by 24th May 2024.

Whilst the skies may be clear today, our drainage system is under stress.

Yesterday saw St Germans Pumping Station discharging 77 cubic metres of water per second. We have never previously needed to pump to this level.

There are still vast quantities of water within our system, being pumped into our system by Internal Drainage Boards and flowing into our system from saturated highland areas.

The weather forecast for overnight tonight is a cause for serious concern, with a worst-case prospect of 30-40mm. Even a more realistic forecast of 10-20mm will cause us issues unless we take further action.

We will deploy the demountable defences for the properties in Benwick as a precautionary measure during daylight today.

We will need to take the water level at St Germans as low as we can without risking bank slips in order to create the gradient in the system to be able to cater for tonight’s forecast rainfall as well as the existing water within the catchment.

For boaters moored in our main drainage system this will unfortunately mean you’ll likely experience levels fluctuating significantly higher and/or lower than normal. This will probably start to be noticeable this afternoon and evening. Please take suitable action to secure your safety.

Should the rainfall forecast materialise then levels will quickly rise and if the rainfall does not materialise then there is sufficient water coming into the system to stabilise the levels again tomorrow.

For 30 years Paul Grodkiewicz has been at the heart of our navigation service in his role as lock-keeper at Salters Lode. Paul has recently confirmed his intention to retire at the end of February 2024 and our plan is that Paul’s wife, Karen Hills, takes on the role.

I’m sure our boating community will join me in wishing Paul well in retirement and are very grateful, like we are, for his loyal and expert service. Many of you will already know Karen and I’m sure will support her as she takes on the role.

The sanitation point at March Town Bridge, Old River Nene, is open. Currently, the information on Fenland District Council’s website is out of date.

Pump-out tickets can be bought from George Campbell Leisure Centre, for £20.

Calors new position on small cylinder filling

Are you thinking of navigating to St George’s Fayre in March on Sunday 23rd April? If so, our mooring will be available to use with just a 25 min stroll into town

https://fenland.gov.uk/stgeorgesfayre

The extensive refurbishment of the downstream lock entrance moorings is now complete and open to the public. Normal operating procedures apply.

 

A second month with almost no rainfall is putting our system under extreme pressure. We keep levels up at this time of year, and in these conditions, by taking water from the River Nene. However, as flows in the Nene fall the Environment Agency also are forced to reduce what we are allowed to take as our share of the residual flow. So far this year we have been able to keep levels above the point where we would expect navigators to be experiencing significant issues, but it is a fine line and a few inches either way can make all the difference to this.

Over the next few years it is our intention to explore options for dredging the shallowest lengths of the old river courses as we have done so with much success in the Well Creek (for example we are currently looking at the whole of March and sections in Benwick). In the meantime please be aware that levels are at their annual lowest, adjust your speed accordingly and keep an eye out for submerged obstacles.

The Middle Level Commissioners are very pleased to be able to report that they have been working closely with Fenland District Council (FDC) to identify opportunities to maintain and enhance the navigation experience through March. As part of these ongoing discussions FDC have reaffirmed their commitment to maintain the pump out facilities in the centre of town. These are currently non-operational but this week confirmation has been received that a replacement pump has been ordered, allowing for planned installation and commissioning late summer or early autumn this year.