THE Grand Western Canal and towpath has been officially re-opened after repairs to a breached embankment caused by severe weather in the winter of 2012.

An official ceremony on Wednesday was attended by councillors from Devon County Council, Mid Devon District Council and Halberton Parish Council, as well as residents and members of the canal’s Joint Advisory Committee.

The canal suffered a serious breach of its northern bank near Swing Bridge at Halberton in November, 2012, after water spilled over the top during torrential downpours and flooding.

It is estimated that more than 16million litres of water flowed through the 23m wide breach on to neighbouring farmland, and emergency services spent days pumping water away to make the area safe.

Afterwards, the county council and its partners embarked on a major restoration plan to reinstate the failed section of the canal and introduce measures to reduce the likelihood of a similar occurrence.

Cllr Des Hannon, county councillor for Tiverton East, welcomed the repairs and praised the county council for its investment.

He said: “I won’t quickly forget the roar of water and the rumble in the ground when the embankment breached. It was a hugely dramatic event.

“Getting our canal back in full operation in time for a momentous 200th birthday at the end of May is a magnificent achievement.

“Thanks are due to everyone involved, not least Devon County Council for the investment.”

As well as repairing the breach, further work is being done to ensure the long-term future of the whole canal, including inspections of all infrastructure along the canal, the installation of a water level monitoring and alarm system, and additional and improved stop boards.

The embankment has been rebuilt within its existing footprint, but is slightly higher to protect against future overtopping.

The canal has been lined with an impervious material over the length of the embankment.

The material is covered and hidden, and the repairs will eventually blend in with the existing canal.

County council chairman Cllr Bernard Hughes said: “As a lifelong member of the Inland Waterways Association and a long-term member of the Waterway Recovery Group the events surrounding the canal in recent times have certainly struck a chord with me.

“The Grand Western Canal is a treasured part of Devon’s natural heritage and an important asset to the region.

“With several thousand visitors every year it plays an important economic role as well.

“I’m delighted to see this part re-open, and wish everyone all the very best for the forthcoming waterways festival and other events this year.”