Why Drainage Dreams are Achieved Only Through Practical Progress

Written By: Market Development Director, Hydro International.

BEING a drainage engineer has never been a showstopper dinner table conversation topic! My profession has always had something of the prosaic and unromantic about it, which belies its potential to enable our local environments to flourish.

As an engineering discipline, it’s true that urban drainage has its roots in finding solutions to protect the public’s health and prevent flooding. So, surface water has been seen by its very nature as a “problem” to be dealt with, rather than an “opportunity” that can bring value to local communities.

This point is ably made in a new paper written for the Institution of Civil Engineers, co-authored by eight leading lights from the UK Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) community including some who are occasional guest bloggers for Engineering Nature’s Way. The paper, entitled “UK sustainable drainage systems: past, present and future” should be essential reading for anyone with an interest in SuDS issues and is a great summary of past and current thinking on the subject.

It also sets the stall out for the important upcoming update to the SuDS Manual by CIRIA, and the launch of their BEST tool that helps to quantify and demonstrate the multiple benefits of SuDS.

The authors also look to the future and set out a vision for SuDS to be justified on their economic value as an important contribution to the country’s natural capital as part of an Ecosystems Services approach.

In this context, the authors outline the case for making SuDS “business as usual” and the barriers that still stand in the way of that. The authors argue that a weak and ineffective current regulatory regime, particularly in England where SuDS are recommended for use only if they are ‘not too costly’, is holding back progress.

“Disputes about ownership, maintenance and the role of regulation may continue to be among the greatest challenges to making SuDS business as usual,” the authors warn.

In future there will be a “multiple functioning of urban infrastructure and a wealth of value delivered by surface water resources,” the authors suggest.

But then how will we achieve this utopia? Change, say the authors, is “most likely to be delivered by effective regulation, appropriate monitoring and action by all concerned”.

I would say much more than this. Back in the stark realities of today, there are still many times when surface water is still very much a problem: when your home or property is flooded; when your insurance is invalid; when much-needed new homes are blocked by ill-informed planning decisions – all these and more make surface water a problem that needs an engineering solution.

For me, delivering the vision for the future depends on a recognition that engineering and technology are at the heart of both problem and opportunity. They are the enablers that will, one practical and pragmatic step at the time, lead to a future vision that encompasses biodiversity and amenity as part of precision-engineered, predictable and maintainable solutions. I may have said it before, but setting out too much of an idealised vision for Green Infrastructure may be, in the long run, counterproductive.

You’ve got to have a dream, but to make it come true we need to keep our SuDS feet firmly on the ground … or you could say, both above and below it.

UK sustainable drainage systems: past, present and future” is published in Volume 168, Issue CE3 of Civil Engineering (Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers).

Authors: Richard Ashley, BSc, MPhil, CEng, MICE, Louise Walker, BSc, PhD, CWEM, CSci, CEnv, ,Brian D’Arcy, PhD, Steve Wilson, MSc, BEng, CEng, MICE, CEnv, CSci, MCIWEM, Sue Illman, BA, DipLA, Grad Dip(Cons)AA, PPLI, HonFSE, HonFellow(UoG), Paul Shaffer, BSc, Bridget Woods-Ballard, MA, MSc, MICE, CEng, and Phil Chatfield, BSc, FCIWEM, CEnv.


Image courtesy of Illman Young


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