Realising the blue-green vision: The crucial role of engineered infrastructure

As episodes of flash flooding become an increasingly permanent feature of our climate, the need for innovative water management solutions is more pressing than ever. Architects, landowners, and planning departments play a pivotal role in adopting and implementing these solutions, which include the emerging paradigm of blue-green infrastructure.

This writing recaps the main topics discussed at Wavin’s recent ‘See Water Differently’ event in London, which saw the coming together of industry professionals to tackle the water management crisis head on.

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Integrating grey and green: A collaborative approach

To fully harness the potential of blue-green infrastructure, it’s essential to understand its components and benefits. Traditional blue elements, such as lakes, floodplains and swales are now complemented by innovative features like living walls, rain gardens and blue-green roofs. When these are integrated with green components like woodlands and road verges, they provide a sustainable and effective system for urban water management.

The advantages are twofold: sustainable drainage for urban areas and enhanced green spaces for public enjoyment. This integration not only supports biodiversity, but also contributes to the health and well-being of urban residents.

However, to achieve the effective Urban Climate Resilience (UCR) required for the liveable, attractive and sustainable cities of the future, a hybrid approach which incorporates engineering grey infrastructure alongside blue-green should be considered.

The role of engineered infrastructure

Grey infrastructure remains indispensable, particularly in retrofitting ageing systems to cope with increasing urbanisation and climate change. These engineered solutions are crucial for providing hydraulic control and swiftly removing surface water from densely populated areas. By combining grey infrastructure with nature-based solutions, we can achieve a more resilient and prosperous urban environment.

London serves as a compelling example. The city relies on a Victorian-era sewage system that is no longer fit for its population of 597,000+. To address this, Thames Water is adopting a grey-green approach that involves upsizing traditional sewers, increasing retention tanks, correcting surface water misconnections, and integrating sustainable drainage systems (SuDS). This hybrid strategy aims to mitigate the risks of flooding and enhance urban resilience.

Through an integrated approach that encompasses grey and green, a range of resilience-boosting urban improvements are made. These outcomes include reducing the urban heat island effect, boosting biodiversity, increasing water circularity and creating amenity value.

Building the future together

As we look towards the future, it’s clear that a strategic hybrid approach is becoming the optimal choice for developers. The benefits of blue-green infrastructure are significant, not only for developers but also for residents. As legislative changes, such as Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, come into play, the role of blue-green infrastructure will become even more crucial.

Achieving this vision requires collective responsibility and action from all stakeholders, including governments, local authorities, and industry professionals. Collaborative projects that take a hybrid approach to surface water management, such as combining rain gardens with attenuation crates, demonstrate the effectiveness of partnerships in overcoming institutional barriers and implementing retrofit solutions.

At Wavin, we are committed to fostering collaboration within the industry. Our recent panel discussion, ‘See Water Differently,’ brought together experts to explore these complex issues. As a next step, we are also partnering with the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) to develop the recommendations raised and create action plans for future surface water management.

By working together, we can build resilient, thriving cities for future generations.

For more information on how Wavin is supporting the development of healthy and sustainable urban communities, click here.

Martin Lambley is the global product manager for urban climate resilience at Wavin

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