Sustainable Drainage Systems – SUDS already ‘so last year?’

Written By: Market Development Director, Hydro International.

Just as we in the UK, and especially Lead Local Flood Authorities (LLFAs), are getting to grips with SUDS – Sustainable Drainage Systems, the concept is already being overtaken by international thinking.

A ‘W’ has been added to SUDS and WSUDS – Water Sensitive Urban Design – has been crowned king of the new buzzwords with ‘Ecosystems Services’ and ‘Liveable Cities’ its defining acolytes.

It’s a good thing, too. Some of the best thinkers in the world are providing a vision for cities of the future in which sustainable drainage is a fundamental starting point for design. Carving green and blue corridors through the concrete will irrigate and cool us, support biodiversity and habitats and turn stormwater from an unwelcome imposter into a clean and health-giving resource.

Blue/green corridors

Does this sound like a science fiction? Professor Tony Wong, of the Centre for Water Sensitive Cities in Monash University, Melbourne doesn’t think so. His keynote presentation at Hydro’s Stormwater Management – What About Quality? Conference  championed WSUD examples from his home city and from Singapore. He evangelised the gathered multitudes at Arup’s Solihull campus into thinking beyond SUDS as flood mitigation. Whilst he praised the progress being made in the UK, some of us couldn’t help feeling that our enthusiasm for SUDS had suddenly been overshadowed by a far worthier ideal.


(You can view Tony’s presentation along with those of all speakers here and watch the conference video .)

Historically, we treated stormwater as a guilty secret, something to be collected and conveyed in pipes underground, or deposited like another waste material into combined sewers. We buried our watercourses and stripped out the greenery from our highways and byways in the name of tidiness.

Now, thankfully, the concept of sustainable drainage is more universal and reinforced through different regulatory drivers. But I would suggest we’re still taking our first baby steps along the journey to WSUDS. But do we have the right mindset and an adequate roadmap?

Water pollution

At CIWEM’s recent Stormwater Management conference (you can view outputs here) CIRIA’s Paul Shaffer was heard to describe water pollution as the ‘Cinderella of Flood Risk’. He is spot on.

We already know that the Flood and Water Management Act is going to require SUDS designs to incorporate water quality elements and to consider how SUDS schemes can integrate with public open spaces. And the requirements of the Water Framework Directive should sharpen minds as 2015 looms closer. Already some local authorities, such as Cambridge City Council and Oxfordshire are showing a vision of what can be achieved.

There’s still a long way to go and the FMWA is focused only on new developments and redevelopments. CIRIA’s welcome work on retrofitting will help to chart potential progress.

Engineering Nature’s Way

But why would a manufacturer of proprietary systems like Hydro get so hot under the collar about greening up our urban landscapes? I hear you ask. The answer is simple and at the heart of the Engineering Nature’s Way philosophy: All sustainable drainage features are engineered in some way and the most successful will require a treatment train of approaches. To create the blue/green urban corridors of today and tomorrow will require full access to a ‘toolbox’ of naturally-occurring and engineered technologies. New innovation and designs will need to be developed to ensure integration of water, planting, soil media and drainage features to exploit and control stormwater.

As we take our early steps towards this future vision, one message also keeps ringing out loud and clear. Multi-agency and public/private collaboration is the key to success. It will be education and knowledge-sharing which provides the fuel to drive our progress.

Now read the blog by Prof Tony Wong and Prof Richard Ashley: Towards an Urban Blue/Green Network.


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