Who is responsible for local flood risk management?

Various organisations have specific roles within flood risk management and they need to combine all of their efforts to ensure that legal and policy requirements are correctly applied.

In Devon the organisations involved and their roles and responsibilities include:

Devon County Council

We are responsible for managing local flood risk in Devon (i.e. risks of internal property flooding from surface water, ground water and ordinary (smaller) watercourses). This excludes flood risk from the sea and main rivers, which is the Environment Agency’s responsibility.

  • Surface water flooding occurs when high intensity rainfall generates runoff which flows over the surface of the ground and pools in low lying areas. Rainwater (including snow and other precipitation) – which is on the surface of the ground (whether or not it is moving), and has not entered a watercourse, drainage system or public sewer.
  • Ordinary watercourse flooding (flooding from any watercourse not designated as main river) occurs when flows in the channel exceeds its capacity, due to excess rainfall and/or runoff or a blockage within the channel.
  • Groundwater flooding occurs when water levels within the ground rise above the ground surface.

Before becoming a Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA), we were responsible for maintaining and repairing highway surface water drainage systems and planning for and responding to flood emergencies. We still have these responsibilities, but we are now also responsible for developing, maintaining and applying a Local Flood Risk Strategy.

Under the new Flood and Water Management Act we are required to:

  • Investigate all significant flooding incidents
  • Maintain a register and record of important flood defence assets
  • Work towards becoming the SuDS Approving Body (SAB) to ensure use of sustainable drainage on new developments, approve, adopt and maintain
  • Build effective partnerships between the authorities that have control over flood risk
  • Undertake specific tasks associated with the Flood Risk Regulations, including completing a Preliminary Flood Risk Assessment and identifying local Flood Risk Areas
  • Undertake works to manage flood risk from surface runoff and groundwater, consistent with the local strategy for flood risk management for the area

Environment Agency

Environment Agency logo

The Environment Agency is responsible for implementing policies set by Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government. The flood risk management activities the Environment Agency are responsible for carrying out in England and Wales include:

  • Adopting a strategic overview for all flood risk management issues, as set out by the Flood and Water Management Act
  • Developing long-term plans for sustainable flood risk management
  • Building physical flood defences
  • Maintaining designated main rivers, including flood defences
  • Flood forecasting and producing flood risk maps
  • Issuing flood warnings and ensuring public awareness of flood risk
  • Advising on waste disposal practices to prevent pollution and harm to human health
  • Some of the Environment Agency’s work is carried out through the local Regional Flood and Coastal Committees (RDFCC); Devon is covered by the South West RFCC
  • More information about the Environment Agency and their work can be found on the Environment Agency’s website

District, City and Borough Councils

Devon District council logos

The District Councils maintain their duties under the Land Drainage Act. They have specific powers for:

  • Implementing and maintaining flood defences on ordinary watercourses which are not the responsibility of the Internal Drainage Board.
  • The preparation of development plans and making decisions on planning applications based on planning policy
  • Managing flood risk on Ordinary Watercourses

For contact details and more information about your district/borough council’s responsibility, find your local council on the Government website.

South West Water

South West Water

Water Companies will continue to be responsible for operating and maintaining the condition of sewerage systems, covering foul water, surface water and combined systems, to reduce sewer flooding and will have a more formal role in the management of surface water.

More information about South West Water and Sewer flooding can be found on South West Water’s website.

Braunton Marsh Internal Drainage Board

Braunton Marsh

Internal Drainage Boards are independent bodies with powers to undertake land drainage work in areas of special drainage needs, as required by the Land Drainage Act. They are also responsible for the management of the water levels in ordinary watercourses and maintaining drainage infrastructure within their area.

Braunton Marsh Internal Drainage Board will continue to carry out their duties for the general supervision of all matters relating to drainage in their area, including those of an environmental and recreational nature.

More information about internal drainage boards can be found via the Association of Drainage Authorities website.

Riparian Owner Responsibility

A riparian owner is someone who has any watercourse within or adjacent to any boundary of their property. Where a watercourse is sited between two or more property boundaries each owner may be equally responsible. Riparian owners are responsible for maintaining the river bed and banks within their section of the watercourse. It is their duty to work towards minimising pollution and preventing obstruction to the water flow.

Under the new flood and water management act, riparian owners maintain all the duties and responsibilities for watercourses in their land set out in the Land Drainage Act.

Property owners must agree with the Environment Agency about maintenance and construction of flood defences, particularly in sections of main rivers. Support or advice about watercourse maintenance is available from Local Authorities and the Environment Agency.

Devon County Council has produced an advice leaflet summarising rights and responsibilities when it comes to rivers, streams, ditches and surface water on your land – Living with Water.

The Environment Agency has also produced guidance covering the responsibilities and rules to follow for watercourses on or near your property, and permissions you need to do work around them – Owning a watercourse.

The Community

A community event

Members of the community have a key role to play in managing flood risk. Planning authorities are legally bound to involve the community in the consultation process for planning applications and during the preparation of planning documents.

Homeowners can reduce flood risk to their own property by:

  • Adapting their building, to improve its resistance and resilience to flooding, for example by using waterproof materials in the walls and floors or adding door and window flood barriers
  • Gaining a greater awareness of flood risk by signing up to receive flood warnings
  • Obtaining adequate insurance where available

The Association of British Insurers estimates that it costs around £2,000-£6,000 to protect a property against shallow and short lived flooding and around £20,000-£40,000 to protect a property against a prolonged flood event. Although the costs seem high, it is likely that any measures taken will pay for themselves after a single flood event, as the cost of flood repairs are generally larger than the outlay for flood protection.


The National Flood Forum is a charitable organisation that provides advice and support to flood victims and to those who are at risk of flooding. It encourages collaboration between organisations that manage flood risk and the communities affected by flooding. The National Flood Forum provides further information about protecting properties using flood resilience and resistance measures on the National Flood Forum website.

Flood Resilience Community Pathfinder Project

The Flood Resilience Community Pathfinder Project focuses on providing improved community resilience measures for 24 communities across Devon for 2013-2015. The majority of these areas were identified by the Environment Agency as ‘Rapid Response Catchments’ and also includes some communities badly affected by recent flooding. The project brings together project partners, emergency planning officers, community representatives and suppliers of resilience products focusing on delivering a series of community flood action plans. These are supported by the provision of relevant monitoring and warning equipment and training of all those involved. More information about the Flood Resilience Community Pathfinder Project can be found on our Flood Resilience page.

Devon Flood Risk Management Strategic Partnership

The Devon Flood Risk Management Partnership is an informal arrangement which brings together the key stakeholders in flood risk management to meet the Council’s new statutory duties. The partnership provides a coordinated and collaborative approach to flood risk management across the County. We have an overseeing and coordinating role on a local scale within the partnership.

Much of the local knowledge and technical expertise necessary for us to fulfil our duties as Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA) lies with the District and Borough councils and other partner organisations. It is therefore crucial that we work alongside these groups and organisations as they undertake their responsibilities to ensure effective and consistent management of local flood risk throughout the county and to contribute to the provision of a coordinated and holistic approach to flood risk management across the county.

Flood and Water Management Act 2010 - diagram

Roles and resources of Devon Risk Management Authorities

A questionnaire survey was completed by all Risk Management Authorities in Autumn 2017 to provide a simple overview of the resource that each has available for its flood risk management and drainage functions and the manner in which it applies these, both individually and collaboratively.

The results have been summarised in a table. Direct comparison between reported figures must be undertaken with caution given the difference in structures, operation and accounting practices.

Last Updated: February 2019