Flood damage and River Law

Hi there.

Over the Christmas holidays after the dreadful storm and heavy rain, the river at the bottom of our garden rose by 2-3 meters and washed away a huge amount of ground. It is slowly encroaching and the fence poles are swinging in mid air. It’s really dangerous and with a drop of around 3-4 meters it’s not ideal to leave as is. According to the locals this is not a normal situation and the Maire doesn’t remember it ever being so bad.
The village church has a similar problem, and whilst I’ve asked the Maire he has advised that here would be no help available through the Mairie. I am anxious to try and stop the erosion as soon as possible but I’ve been told that I need to check out the legal situation. Could anyone point me in the right direction, or give me any advice if they’ve found themselves in a similar situation. Thanks in advance.

Oh gawd! I do sympathise. No help forecoming from the council? And am now worried.

The property at the top of my faves list is there because it has ‘land with direct access to the river’. Out of the gate, across the single width tarmaced lane and there’s 15-20 metres of grass to the edge of the river. I have only seen the place on street view [2016] as yet but it looks like the fall to the river from the lane could cope with 2m - not sure about 3m.

Is it on your land?

I believe so. The boundary lies in the actual river according to the map. So I am really flummoxed as to where to start.

There is some different ways to do you are probably going to need to have wall put in concrete ore steel beams that are hammered in place with big hydraulic hammers it’s not going too be easy check with your local mayor about what you are allowed to do

Start with your Insurers - apart from anything else its unlikely to be “cheap” and they will - assuming its covered by your insurer - point you in the direction of suitable contractors. If you have the legal protection in your insurance that may be a useful start point.

The simple answer is you bung a string of gabions in - wire cages full of rocks - but its back breaking work and really fun building them in a river. If that’s not suitable then it is engineering solutions from the simple railway type sleepers through to piles and a lot of concrete - either way its big machines and expensive. I have no idea of laws here or who has to approve what - but I would start with a contractor and work through it with them given they should know who to talk to and what is allowed.

Or move the fence back 3-5 metres and let nature sort itself out - the river will find its path in time and the erosion will stop.

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Thank you Chris. Sadly my insurance won’t cover it, I am led to believe. Why, I don’t know, but then I’ve found insurance to be very different here than in the UK. Perhaps it was not being sure of what the full extent of the policy we bought… ah well. That said the insurance agent has volunteered to ring the Maire and double check my understanding of a previous conversation regarding my options. So for that I am very grateful.
I am going to see a contractor tomorrow, and we will go from there. I am just unsure as to the laws, and what we are or aren’t allowed to do! Hopefully we make progress.

Hi Martin. Thanks for the info. I am going to speak to a contractor tomorrow so will go from there. Fingers crossed it’s not too expensive!

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Hi Christopher. When we bought this house we were assured that the river had been in the same spot for years without any problems (!), never rose any higher than a metre or so with the melt from the Pyrenees and never encroached upon the land. Apparently this event was a once in a century storm, so it should be fine going forward. I hope! Good luck with your house hunt.

I used to own a boatyard on the Tamar, on the Devon bank. The published max for springs in the tide tables was 6 metres. As the Tamar drains most of Bodmin Moor, during endless wet gales in winter and a big spring tide with the wind behind it the level easily exceeded 6m and lapped over that seawall, fortunately never more than by 60-70mm, in my time. But the result was that the boatyard produced ‘The Galillee Effect’ - people walking about looked like they were walking on water and could walk from Devon to Cornwall …

Seems like you may have to build something similar. A retaining wall, dig out behind and back-fill with suitable material and then face with stuff that isn’t going to go anywhere when the storms hit it.

Mind you, when those occasions occurred the water pressure against the sea wall was such that jets of water would squirt out of the walls of the workshop [below the building], the floor of which was below the level of the bottom of the sea wall. In the photo the tide is at about 4m above low water springs and the wall is about 2.4m high.


Not necessarily. Sorry to be pessimistic. We have had TWO “once in a century” floods of the Garonne in the 12 years we’ve been here.