SuDS and the Floods and Water Supply Nexus

Written By: Honorary Vice President, CIWEM

SuDS: The State of the Nation

Alastair Moseley, Honorary Vice President of the CIWEM and Director of H2O WEM Ltd  announces the launch of a survey and round table debate on the current up-take of SuDS and the challenges we face in managing floods whilst providing water resources in areas of water stress in the UK.

This year has seen the coincidence of formal drought orders and major floods if not for the first time then for a very long time. We started 2012 with severely depleted water resources following a prolonged period of very dry weather, and then the heavens opened and have hardly stopped since.

But while we now in November 2012 have virtually every river, reservoir and ground water resource full to overflowing after six months of exceptionally wet weather, the fact is that the rainfall statistics in the South East over the last three years have recorded 22 out of 36 months as below average rainfall. It is clear therefore that we will have to cope with these extreme swings between long dry spells and intense wet periods more often in future and we simply have to now begin to adapt our water management infrastructure to provide the resilience we need for society and our communities to thrive.

This in my view is the biggest challenge of the 21st Century not only for the water industry but for urban development and growth, as in future we will simply not be able to continue to build and operate our water and wastewater assets in isolation from the urban developments that they serve.

We have had several ‘wake up calls’ in recent times, the most notable in the UK being the Gloucestershire Floods (that triggered the Pitt Review in 2007), Cumbria, Truro and most recently the North East, to name but a few. And the latest devastation in New York caused by Super Storm Sandy has shown the true cost of not adapting to extreme weather – $50Bn is the latest estimate of the cost of impact on that City’s economy.

But how many ‘wake-up calls’ do we need before we start to take things seriously? We have had the Pitt Review, the Floods and Water Management Act, the Water for Life White Paper, a neutered Water Act – and still we are building infrastructure that is not that dissimilar to what was being built before, and we have failed to put proper governance in place for water resilient urban development….and so it goes on. We seem to be great at producing ideas and reports in the UK but don’t have the wherewithal to make the actual physical changes on the ground that are so desperately needed by vulnerable communities throughout the UK.

I ran my first SUDS conference back in 2000 with CIWEM West Midlands and Welsh Branches where we addressed the issues of adoption and the roles that SuDS can play in building urban resilience to flooding. I have run or spoken at many more conferences since then – and 12 years on we are still having the same debates!!

Returning to where I started with the challenges of water management that we face in 2012 and the Floods and Drought nexus, we now have the added dimension of long term water shortages, especially in the South East to worry about. Most discussions around this focus on the need for a water grid or piping water down to the South East from the north. But these are hugely expensive major pieces of infrastructure that will be difficult to promote, fund and implement and in my view we are ignoring the obvious potential to capture and store water through SuD systems within our urban environment for non-potable use such as washing cars, watering gardens, flushing toilets, etc – all of which are the majority components of the daily per capita water demand in the UK for which the water does not need to be treated to drinking standards. For this reason I believe that there has never been a more important time to keep the debate about SuDS alive and to ensure that we encourage the right vision for SuDS in future.

To support this we must still work together as an engineering and scientific community to continue to develop the best possible National Standards for SuDS in England and Wales that will help and educate local authorities to oversee the implementation of practical solutions which will maximise the use of SuDS across the Country. And when we have the standards we must make sure that they are used consistently – which is why we need the long awaited and much heralded SABs up and running as a matter of urgency. We must also begin to encourage the use of storm water as a resource to help ease the pressure of water shortages, and work to fully understand what constitutes best practice techniques for the treatment of storm water recovered from SuD systems to remove pollutants as part of a catchment-based approach to surface water management.

To this end I am delighted to announce that  the Engineering Nature’s Way Forum[1] is launching ‘SuDS: The State of the Nation’ – a much needed initiative to highlight current thinking and concerns on the development of SuDS in the UK featuring an industry survey and providing a platform for industry debate.  The State of the Nation survey will be an opportunity to gain insight into how prepared local authority officers feel in the run-up to their role as SuDS approving bodies (SABs), how well supported they feel in delivering their roles,  and their vision of how SuDS policy might develop in the future in their area.  The survey will be conducted during November via an independent specialist local authority research organisation to provide a snapshot view of SuDS in local authorities.    We would urge as many local authorities as possible to contribute to the survey to help us to build a strong picture of the current position.  A report summarising the results will be made available to everyone who takes part as soon as possible after the closing date.

The findings of the survey will provide input into a wider Round Table debate on’ SuDS: The State of the Nation’ which will comprise a panel of invited experts from the SuDS community along with other invited guests including politicians, flood group leaders and the media.   The Round Table on 20th December will be filmed and streamed on the Engineering Nature’s Way web site for people to view the debate online and contribute to on-going discussions on the website.    We hope the event will provide a timely ‘summit’ of experts to discuss the current issues surrounding SuDS, how far we have come since the Pitt Review and what more needs to be done both now, and in the future to ensure SuDS is properly encouraged and implemented.    The Round Table follows a successful event held in 2009 at CIWEM for which I was honoured to be the Chair and which can still be viewed on the NCE Web Site. I am of course delighted to have been invited to chair this new debate and look forward to driving and steering a detailed and informed discussion that will hopefully contribute some ideas, solutions and impetus to making SuDS ‘business as usual’ in the development of the UK’s water and urban management infrastructure.

I do hope that if you are a water and flood manager in a Local Authority that you will take part in the Survey and that everyone reading this will log on to watch the live debate or watch the recorded highlights afterwards and work with us to drive forward with SuDS as an integral part of our urban landscapes and water management asset infrastructure.


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