2 May 2012
Measures to control diffuse pollution, as required by the Water Framework Directive (WFD), are often described as ranging from “hard regulation” to “softer” approaches, such as technical manuals and codes of practice; educational initiatives involving sector engagement.
For urban diffuse sources, new initiatives to develop best practice guidance can have a role to play for the UK in reporting its implementation actions for compliance with WFD requirements.
In England and Wales the new SUDS standards – whilst questionable in terms of how effective they will prove to be in driving appropriate actions to protect water quality, at least pay lip service to that need. Much more detailed and sector specific guidance however, needs to be made available to developers and users for the worst case situations for urban diffuse source pollution impacts: trunk roads and motorways, and industrial estates.
In Scotland, where a requirement to use SUDS technology for new developments has been upheld by SEPA since 1996, a partnership venture led to the publication of sector led guidance on SUDS technology for local authorities and others involved with roads of all kinds. The guidance can be seen at
Early SEPA policy recognised the pollution risks presented by industrial estates and guidance was produced for use in Scotland. That established the requirement for new industrial estates to have SUDS features in three levels of the development, to successively manage pollution risks from source to discharge. Two good example developments illustrate that approach: the Stephen’s Croft timber industries development on the River Annan near Lockerbie, and the J4M8 distribution businesses development near Livingston. In both examples, there are source control or sometimes site controls (filter drains, detention ponds for example), and then a network of grass swales provides further attenuation for flow and pollutants, as well as scope for intervention in the event of major incidents. The third level of treatment is a retention pond or stormwater wetland (details differ between the two sites). In both instances major new industries have been established with no adverse impacts on the water environment.
That approach for new industrial developments was inspired by an estate in Wisconsin, visited for the international diffuse pollution video Nature’s Way, that was launched in June 1996 in the UK. Whilst good practice has followed in the above examples, it would make sense for the UK and indeed EU to establish consistent guidance for industry across the region, to provide an economic level playing field for business, as well as to help deliver WFD requirements.
The Diffuse Pollution Specialist group of the International Water Association (IWA) have taken on board the need to share best practice experience and encourage widespread application of the technology (see poster paper from 2011 IWA conference). Lead partners are China, South Korea and Thailand, from the Diffuse Pollution Specialist Group; growing economies with a desire to not be polluters. In view of that IWA initiative, it would make sense to initiate new guidance for the UK now, and share with the ideas and experiences of others working in parallel in their countries.
Soft measures do not sound likely to be effective on their own, when compared with a simple and appropriate regulatory regime (next blog topic), but without clarity on best practice, regulation is also unlikely to be effective. Both approaches are needed.