Water White Paper – “Water for Life”

Written By: Market Development Director, Hydro International.

Photo of a river flowing through countryside

Just as winds and floods lashed the North of England, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman announced the Government’s long-awaited Water White Paper – with a stern warning of need for action to tackle severe water shortages.

The dramatic contrasts in weather conditions couldn’t have provided a more pressing reminder of the impacts of climate change, which is quite rightly driving the UK’s agenda  towards more sustainable water management in future.

The White paper – entitled Water for Life – embodies a vision for water that should be broadly welcomed by the water industry as a huge step in the right direction.   First promised back in July2011, the delays in implementing some key policy areas are causing frustrations.  So perhaps the overall reaction should be “great vision – now let’s get on with it!”

From the point of view of drainage, the White Paper gives a solid “thumbs up” to the concept and delivery of SuDS.  Let’s not forget, too, that current proposed legislation refers only to new developments.  The challenge of retrofitting SuDS into our urban environments is a much greater one.  It was good to see retrofit SuDS acknowledged at least in the White Paper.   This agenda, too needs to be driven forward with determination.  The excellent work of CIRIA last year was invaluable in this respect and we look forward to the publication of their guidance early in 2012.

The White Paper’s clear statement of intent to encourage the Water and Sewerage Companies to use SuDS is also very welcome.   There’s a long road ahead, here, too.   But the WASCs must be part of the picture if we are to achieve truly integrated and sustainable drainage infrastructures.

The Government is serious about tackling water quality and diffuse pollution – not least because of the requirements of the Water Framework Directive.  Water quality treatment will be an essential element for the development of SuDS systems in future – and I hope an important element of the new National Standards.   The White Paper promises a new National Strategy on Urban Diffuse Pollution – with a consultation in 2012 – a strategy that clearly should include the role of SuDS as part of an integrated approach.

Tackling the diversity of polluting sources through catchment management approaches to improved water quality through local involvement is an essential part of the process.    The development of more catchment pilot studies supported by the Environment Agency and Defra is welcome.  Already the EA is supporting 10 pilots and 70 expressions of interest have been received for further schemes.  The White Paper promised that 25 pilots will be actively supported and evaluated by 2013.

I will also watch with interest the Government’s work with the Highways Agency to model the risks from road runoff and prioritise remediation work.  SuDS have a clear role to play, here, too.

The White Paper also indicates the Government’s plans to improve public knowledge of sustainable drainage practices by providing more information to householders and by ‘fostering a consortium of local SuDS ambassadors’ to provide advice and information.

As I have said many times before, the key is in good knowledge, shared best practice – and a proper understanding of SuDS that reflects the advantages of using the full SuDS toolbox – including where a mix of natural and proprietary approaches work best.  This is engineering in nature’s way.

I began by highlighting the stark contrasts of water scarcity and intense weather patterns that will strain our water infrastructure in the years to come.   For the Government – and industry – to truly deliver on its vision we must be clear about fully integrated strategies for water management in which drainage is part of a wider whole; in which stored and collected rainwater is treated as a resource to be reused and recycled wherever possible rather than as a waste product to be disposed of, or piped away.   All of this should be within a vision of well-designed water sensitive environments in our towns and cities.     That’s a challenging vision – but we have to start the journey from where we are now and drive it forward with a real sense of urgency.   Then, we will have achieved progress indeed.

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