27 Apr 2012
As drought was followed by deluge, recent weather patterns underlined the urgency of finding sustainable means of controlling surface water flows has not diminished.Flooding exacerbated by a ground hardened through drought prevented surface water infiltrating through the soil.
Climate change is leading both to longer, dryer periods and to more intense storm events, which meteorologists have widely predicted to continue in future (see this Environment Agency report for further details). River levels are predicted to drop dramatically in some areas in future.
But it was the public debate about possible solutions to the drought which gave me the impetus to put pen to paper. As households and businesses were urged to conserve water, talk mounted of the options for water trading between water-rich and water-stressed areas with water companies conveying drinking water supplies across the country, creating a new infrastructure of pumps and pipelines to make it happen. United Utilities’ idea to pump water South along the route of the new High-Speed rail link is just one scheme that has been mooted.
Does this mean we are prepared to convey billions of litres of high quality potable water around the country just to flush it down our toilets and hose it on our gardens? As it speeds past us in an efficient pipeline, will we continue to watch the rainwater that does fall on our roofs, pavements and roads swept out of the way and into a sewer? I hope I’m not the only person who thinks this is a ludicrous prospect.
It is high time that we repaired the disconnect between sustainable drainage and water conservation in the public imagination and starting calling much more forcefully for a truly integrated approach to water management.
The progress we have made with Sustainable Drainage (SuDS) across the UK is encouraging and leads the way towards potential solutions that link water usage with managing rainwater as closely as possible to where it falls through a ‘toolbox’ of engineered and natural solutions.
But we need to go much further and stop thinking of stormwater as waste, and start thinking of it as a resource. Indeed if we adopted the classic principles of “reduce, reuse, recycle” to water in the same way as other ‘disposable’ resources, surely we would start to develop solutions –and incentives – which deliver a means for practical progress.