SUDS a partial solution to flooding in Britain

November 25, 2009

BRITAIN/-Susanne Charlesworth is a member of SUDS – Sustainable Drainage Applied Research Group, Coventry University. The opinions expressed are her own.-

The scenes of flooding in Cumbria are a shocking illustration of how Britain’s ageing drainage infrastructure is failing.

The function of the majority of drainage structures is to remove water from inhabited areas as soon as possible via so-called receiving watercourses as conduits to carry excess water away. Unfortunately, cities and towns have grown beyond capacity, back-up floodplains are built upon, and water overflow has nowhere to go.

Householders are shown on television blaming the government and demanding that something must be done to prevent flooding.

In my opinion, part of the solution lies in sustainable drainage, which mimics nature by encouraging filtration via permeable and vegetated surfaces and detention via ponds, wetlands and slowly flowing water.

By slowing the water flow, SUDs offers a way of attenuating the storm peak, allowing the water to slowly dissipate. As it does this, pollutants are sifted out of the water. Since many SUDs devices involve vegetation, the sustainable approach also enhances biodiversity, amenity and local landscapes.

You would think planners, Local Authorities and even individual householders would be falling over themselves to incorporate SUDs into their built environment. But no. While SUDS have been around for several decades, particularly in the U.S., Sweden, France and latterly in Scotland, uptake in England and Wales has been slow.

People argue that the cost is prohibitive and that it is difficult to maintain. Negative views could be countered by research and development, education and information.

There is also the issue of money. Research and development is expensive.

Legislation in England and Wales does not necessarily encourage the implementation of SUDs. Rather, it has get-out clauses to enable SUDs to slip down the agenda.

The problem is more wide-ranging than this, involving everything from the trend for paving front gardens, to wider issues of SUDs devices such as wetlands actually being used as water treatment installations rather than “natural” ecosystems which area protected from dirty urban water.

There is no way I would suggest that SUDs would have prevented the current flooding, but it could have helped. The likelihood is that winters in Britain will be wetter, and the weather more stormy in general. We need, therefore, to plan now for what looks like uncertain times ahead for the British weather. If the future is wet, then the future has to be SUDs.

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