Delivering Sustainable Drainage – Let’s Get Practical

Written By: Market Development Director, Hydro International.

Alex photo for blog

We all want to achieve our goal of widespread use of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) as quickly as possible – to get there, I believe, requires us to combine our vision with some healthy pragmatism.

The House of Commons environmental select committee (EFRA) have reinforced the need for urgency in implementing SuDS measures in its report on the draft Water Bill (published 1 February) and chair Ann McIntosh MP has said the Government has been ‘too slow’ to implement much-needed changes.

In their enquiry continuing this month, the committee will ask Defra to explain itself, set out exactly which parts of the Flood and Water Management Act are proving difficult to implement and what is being to done to address the difficulties.

I for one, will be watching those discussions closely.  I strongly believe that the key to implementing SuDS in future lies in balancing a vision for natural features with an understanding of the practical – and sometimes hard-engineered – solutions that can help to deliver them.

It’s always inspiring to experience the passion of those of us who campaign for SuDS, so it was a privilege to host the SuDS: The State of the Nation Round Table on behalf of Engineering Nature’s Way.

The debate was enlivened by visionary people who have a clear view of how SuDS could make our urban environments cleaner and greener.  Yes, we agreed, some progress has been made already, but there is still so much to do and I believe we need that progress to be accelerated.

Round Table

You can read a full report of the event and the findings of the SuDS: The State of the Nation Survey.  The debate got me thinking that healthy compromise is needed if we are going to truly harness SuDS to improve our urban environment.

It’s clear there is a job to do to bring developers on board with sustainable drainage.  For me this emphatically means countering the fear that SuDS are land-hungry natural features that threaten the commercial viability of developments.  Yes, SuDS should be ‘green’, but the principle of at-source control and the SuDS trinity – ‘quality, quantity and amenity’ equally allow for hard engineered features where this delivers a practical solution that attenuates water, reduces flood risk and protects the sewage infrastructure.

You’re probably thinking ‘I would say’ that because I work for a leading manufacturer of proprietary systems for sustainable drainage.  But the fact is, I believe in both.  Ponds, swales and detention basins offer great amenity, but using a mix of natural and engineered features together can deliver a solution that ticks all the green boxes – whilst still offering a practical way forward for the developers, planners and highways authorities working with the constraints of the space available.    Hydro products are being used to facilitate SuDS successfully and practically in major housing developments up and down the country.

Education needed

The panel was in agreement that there was a need for more education and training not only among those preparing to be Local Authority SuDS Approving Bodies (SABS) but also among engineers and developers – and not least among public and local stakeholders who can contribute to costs, maintenance and shout success from their (green) rooftops.

More case study exemplars – including retrofit schemes – are needed and we need to identify projects to monitor the long-term performance and maintenance experience of SuDS.   I hope the Engineering Nature’s Way website can make its contribution alongside resources such as CIRIA’s Susdrain.

You can read the latest posting of how innovative new Up-FloTM treatment technology helped a housebuilder in Kent deliver SuDS with two levels of treatment here.

We talked a lot about the fact that we don’t need to wait for legislation and the Flood and Water Management Act to get on with delivering SuDS.   The European Water Framework Directive also has pressing targets for water quality improvements and that, too, means we need urban drainage schemes that can prove they remove pollutants from surface water runoff.

Proprietary treatment systems such as Hydro’s Downstream Defender© advanced vortex separator can provide a space-saving contribution to improved water quality as part of a SuDS solution.  Because they are engineered, they also offer repeatable, measurable performance.

Housebuilders

Recent national press stories suggest that work on the National Standards for new development in England and Wales may have been stalled by a strong lobby from housebuilders and developers who need to do all they can to revive our construction industry – and provide much-needed new housing.

My vision is that proprietary systems can make a valuable contribution by saving land, minimising maintenance and keeping developments viable whilst still adhering to best-practice SuDS principles.  Used in great designs, they can be combined with natural above-ground features.

Yes, we must work to demonstrate the multiple benefits of SuDS and find new ways of valuing them as Ecosystems Services.  Yes, we need to find new and creative ways for local communities to engage and fund retrofit schemes.

Pitt Report

But that vision will take time to become reality – and in the meantime our atrocious weather is reminding us in no uncertain terms of the need to implement the recommendations of the Pitt report and to tackle urban flooding.

So, let’s get practical.  We should also not forget, as my British Water colleague Ian Bernard pointed out, that the UK can be proud of its innovative engineering technologies for urban drainage – technologies that can also help us with overseas trade.  The right legislation can help to accelerate investment in research and development and support UK plc abroad – a vision we can all sign up to.

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