8 May 2011
I am delighted to have been invited to write this first “Blog” for the “Engineering Nature’s Way” initiative which I am sure will prove to be a very dynamic and popular forum. It will be an excellent vehicle for us to share thoughts, ideas and initiatives for the promotion of sustainable drainage techniques in the management of surface water and water resources.
I have decided to choose the theme of integrated water management for the water industry for my opening blog as I firmly believe that this is the biggest area of missed opportunity that needs addressing at the moment.
In my view the management of surface water in our urban and peri-urban environments is inextricably linked with water resources and the provision of water supplies to urban conurbations. It seems obvious to me that in this era of new technologies, creative architecture and integrated urban planning (not to mention the Flood and Water Management Act and forthcoming Water White Paper), that we should be building-in surface water capture and harvesting infrastructure both into new development and as part of reconstruction/refurbishment of existing development to offset local water demand.
Of course we still face the same challenges as to who is responsible for what when it comes to water management. Even in this new age of surface water management plans, river basin management plans and new and forthcoming legislation, it is not always obvious who exactly is responsible for the prevention of flooding.
Urban flooding is often as a result of a complex mix of pathways and responsibilities and it is rare to find a flooding incident where the cause is the sole responsibility of one organisation be it water company, local authority or landowner. There is an emerging recognition that for the majority of flooding incidents water companies are required to eliminate to meet the DG5 service level, partnership approaches are needed to solve them economically. Ironically after years of resisting the use of SUDS techniques, a number of the water companies in England and Wales now recognise their wider benefits to meet the needs of these complex situations. Even Ofwat are now interested!
SUDS offer the opportunity for water companies to engage more effectively with stakeholders and responsible bodies in complex flood management situations and they also give the opportunity to solve flooding more cost effectively, to improve customer engagement and demonstrate true commitment to community cohesion. This is because SUDS are very visible surface water management components with the potential to enhance the public realm and raise community morale, as well as giving the flexibility to direct water to places where it can be stored or dispersed with minimal risk to property, life or limb.
So if SUDS can offer this benefit to Water Company flood risk management obligations, could they as part of an integrated water management approach offer similar benefits to the provision of water in the home? We face a number of challenges to our water resources in the UK – growing population; water scarcity areas as a result of climate change; increasing water demand as a result of demographic and lifestyle changes to name but a few. These together with the challenges of maintaining or replacing an aging water supply infrastructure, keeping leakage under control and maintaining acceptable water pressures – mean that maintaining our commitment to providing clean water from the tap to meet all of our domestic needs is becoming increasingly challenging. We must also consider the burden on our precious rivers and ground waters to provide the water that we need together with the finite capacity of our reservoirs and the need for future storage at the expense of our countryside and rural communities. And all to supply clean drinking water direct to the tap, over 50% of which we happily dispose of through flushing toilets, washing cars and watering gardens!
By using SUDS within an integrated water management approach to urban development we could significantly reduce the burden on our water supply infrastructure. SUDS in their broadest context embrace green roofs, underground storage, pervious road and footway surfaces as well as green space. They offer the potential to capture water for storage either at individual properties or central within urban communities. By incorporating surface water capture into urban development and using it as part of the overall water resource balance requirements we could have a major beneficial impact on water over-abstraction, reduced requirement for mains renewal, leakage reduction through reduced pressures as a result of reduced demand and reduced carbon emissions through reduced treatment and pumping requirements.
So who should be leading the agenda here?: Government (Defra or DCLG) in an effort to meet sustainability targets?; Local Authorities to meet their carbon commitments?; Water Companies to reduce their investment in water supply infrastructure as well as giving them the potential to extend their services to maintaining community based water harvesting systems?; The Environment Agency as part of a root and branch reform of water resource and ground water management?
Or all working together in an integrated way?. It would be great to see this sort of thinking emerge in the Water White Paper which we will not see now until the end of the year. What I do know that we collectively in the water industry have the technologies and the know how to make initiatives such as this a reality. All we need is the vision and the collective leadership to make a paradigm shift in the way we manage and use water in our urban and peri-urban environments. I realise that this is not a panacea and that there are many hurdles to overcome and arguments to win. But let’s grasp the opportunity of new technologies, legislation and ways of working to make a real difference to the way that we source, provide, use and value water! I look forward to reading your views and seeing the Engineering Nature’s Way initiative take off to the benefit of our scientific and engineering community!
WSPUK Water Sector Director
Past President of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management