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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MOSSES said to build citys on a firm and Solid Foundation. YOU say that ” Unfortunately, cities and towns have grown beyond capacity, back-up floodplains are built upon, and water overflow has nowhere to go.” Well i SAY that your Language is derivative, glossary and not the whole truth and has elements of Forked tounge. Certainly Plants and trees grow but to include that cities grow is a derivatively as well as transactionally nonsense. Authorised entities and institutions including Engineers and Money lending derivatives and Tables PUT their signiture to documents CREATING the present day situation on the Layout and inadequate juxterposition of human facilities of Cities.( for our own good of coarse ) Any patch up or partial solution has echos of more nonsense of Original Sin and has large measure of misdirected vectors of conception whether emaculate or otherwise. included in any solution should be mindfullness of Renaicence and Aquiducts.

Posted by Eden and Apple | Report as abusive

Jefferson Airoplane said that cities should be built on Rock and Roll in so doing taking the high ground on happiness.

Posted by Eden and Apple | Report as abusive

An interesting theory.

It is recorded in a number of papers on the matter that current pressure on space in the UK has led to development and urbanisation of flood plains. As such we should expect low lying areas that have been recently developed to flood. BUT this does not give us an answer as to why areas previously immune to flood are now affected.

What we have to look at is changes in the area upstream of the affected towns and villages. Have there been major infrastructure and habitation changes? Urbanisation removes natural soakaway areas with the water directed to runoff into the drains. These discharge into our rivers and therefore the river levels can become more volatile.

Also I hear that it was admitted many years ago that this country has exceeded the level of population it can support given the land area and natural resources. In this respect are not reaping what was sown for us two, three or more generations ago with all out drives for growth?

The solution has to be a limitation on any further development, a drastic cut back on new roads and urbanisation and more use of brownfield sites. There also has to be major investment in new and revitalised public transport, preferably rail or light rail using nuclear generated power. A drive to cut down on commuting and the need to pander to the private car as a result is also desirable.Finally a big push to improve the drainage infrastructure, with some way of using the water flow to generate power should also be made.

Posted by Richard | Report as abusive

For pity’s sake. What on earth has “sustainable drainage” got to do with Cumbria’s floods.

In one of the wettest parts of the UK; already saturated high ground was hit by record-breaking localized rainfall – an unconfirmed 12 inches plus in 24 hours at Seathwaite. [Nothing to do with global warming either – just bad luck and a stationary Azores Conveyor.]

Getting stuck under a band of rain is just one of those things – Boscastle was identical. Constucting drainage systems to cope with those 1000 year flows is hopelessly uneconomical – it would be cheaper to evacuate and bulldoze.

NOTHING was going to stop, or slow, millions of tonnes of water heading off those hills. Cockermouth is at the confluence of two rivers – if you live too near to pretty rivers, then every few hundred years you’re getting wet. End of.

Condolences to the brave copper’s family.

Posted by Growler | Report as abusive