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Drainage Systems - SuDS

nson, Director of Hydro International’s UK sion and chair of the British Water SuDS

Elvetham Heath

It is, perhaps, an interesting irony that an old origin of the word ‘suds’ may have meant silty floodwater, or a marsh or bog. To civil engineers at least, SuDS are now better known as the urban antidote to flooding and poor water quality, as the acronym for Sustainable Drainage Systems. So, if we are to believe the Oxford English Dictionary’s etymology at least, it seems we have already turned a full circle of sorts with SuDS as a solution to controlling the flow, quantity and quality of surface water. It’s a play on words, admittedly, but it helps me to set up a historical question: In another 100 years’ time can we hope that the word SuDS will be on the tip of the general public’s tongue as a humdrum, everyday term for stormwater drainage?

Despite the encouraging progress made in regulation in the UK, we are only just starting out with SuDS. The focus of the Flood and Water Management Act and the Code for Sustainable Homes, for example, is very much on new development or redevelopment. It will be years before the proposed new National Standards for England and Wales have a significant impact on surface water drainage infrastructure.

Great progress has been made in getting SuDS on the statute books in England, Wales and Scotland. It’s taken a lot of work for Government and industry to get this far, but it’s still just the end of the beginning as far as SuDS is concerned.

The best blueprint we have of SuDS for the future comes from the recently published guidance on Retrofitting for Surface Water Management from CIRIA (Construction Industry Research Industry Association). Among the industry experts who have authored this milestone document, there is a palpable sense of passion and enthusiasm for the transformational potential of SuDS in urban environments.

Their infectious vision helps to paint the best picture we have so far of the opportunity to deliver multiple benefits with SuDS in our urban spaces, creating attractive and useful public landscapes, improved biodiversity

and helping to reconnect a network of ecological green corridors. SuDS principles aim to mimic natural drainage paths and processes by dealing with rainwater close to the point where it falls. To achieve this means engineering in nature’s way with a full ‘toolbox’ of techniques using both 'hard’ engineered and ‘soft’ natural components, often in combination. SuDS retrofit opportunities cover a broad range of options, from the incremental and prosaic through to more strategic urban planning approaches. The critical point is that no space is useless. The Guidance’s 22 case studies provide some excellent exemplars, including several that use Hydro International’s products as part of a sustainable solution. A recent car park retrofit at St Ives in Cornwall used Hydro Stormbloc® and Hydro Stormcell® storage, together with a Hydro-Brake® Flow Control as part of a local retention solution that has solved flooding problems there. Another case study from Waltham Forest in North London showcases one the first ever drainage schemes to use vortex flow controls. Back in 1984, the solution used 9 Hydro- Brake® Flow Controls to tackle major flooding problems and was even featured on Tomorrow’s World as an exciting new solution to flood risk. It is still doing its job today providing a sustainable, no power solution to managing flood risk.

The concept of Ecosystems Services has provided a means of re-evaluating Sustainable Drainage systems in terms of the multiple value they offer local communities. The Government’s Natural Environment White Paper helped to outline a means of giving a monetary value to the benefits derived by people from natural systems. Such approaches help to counter negative perceptions of SuDS as being too expensive, or taking up too much land. These perceptions must not be allowed to dilute the UK’s approach to SuDS in the future. In the past, we have treated stormwater as a waste product to be swept away along underground pipes, through combined sewers

and eventually to wastewater treatment works where it has to be expensively treated and discharged. In the same way, many of the urban pockets of green along our streets and highways have often been neglected, or seen as costly liabilities that need to be tidied up.

In future, landscape architects and urban planners will be as important as civil engineers in delivering a multi-agency approach that can harness the potential of SuDS as part of wider urban solutions for our homes, highways, public parks and amenities, helping to build blue and green corridors and contribute to Water Sensitive Urban Design.

Engineering in nature’s way means using a mix of ‘hard’ or proprietary systems and ‘soft’ or natural features to achieve this. Well- designed SuDS can minimise land take, while still delivering a sustainable solution. For example, using a Hydro-Brake Optimum® can help minimise stormwater storage requirements and reduce the size of a pond or detention basin. Treatment solutions like the advanced hydrodynamic separator (Downstream Defender®) can be enabling, helping to prevent silts, oils and pollutants from entering sensitive ponds and wetlands. Our industry still has much to do in terms of infecting all the necessary agencies with a passion for SuDS and we must continue to demonstrate best practice. Hydro’s Engineering Nature’s Way website is one such initiative to share knowledge and case studies on SuDS. Visit You can also download the popular “SuDs in the Urban Landscape” e-guide, authored by myself together with Prof Richard Ashley and Sue Illman of Illman Young landscape architects.

Download a copy of ‘SuDS in the Urban Landscpe e-guide below: nload-the-e-guide/


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