Sustainable journey begins

The Floods and Water Management Act (FWMA) places emphasis on flood risk management, rather than defence to help protect urban areas from extreme rainfall events. Dr Jason Shingleton explains what it will mean in practice.

The impact of climate change in the UK has created more extreme weather events that have contributed to some of the most significant floods in recent memory, such as those in 2007 and 2009. The widespread flooding seen in Hull demonstrated how poorly the local drainage network coped with the sudden increase in rainfall, and changes to our weather patterns require a re-examination of how we manage excess surface water.

This need for change was captured by the Pitt Review in 2007, which gave more than 90 recommendations for how flooding should be managed and avoided. The report provided the catalyst for the raft of legislation aimed at establishing a framework for a more sustainable approach to drainage and water management.

Implemented in response to the EU Floods Directive, the Floods and Water Management Act (FWMA) was passed by Parliament prior to the general election in May. This new legislation places emphasis on flood risk management, rather than defence to help protect urban areas from extreme rainfall events.

Right direction
The FWMA defines sustainable drainage as “managing rainwater with the aim of reducing damage from flooding, improving water quality, protecting and improving the environment, protecting health and safety and ensuring the stability and durability of drainage systems”.

This sets the industry in the right direction in terms of developing national standards for sustainable drainage systems (SUDS), but there is still a long way to go.

New standards must address the way in which SUDS are designed, constructed, maintained and how they operate in order for the objectives of the FWMA to be achieved.

Ultimately, the biggest challenge posed by the FWMA is the responsibility for the approval and adoption of SUDS at local level. With the Environment Agency (EA) now taking a strategic overview role for national flood risk assessment, this responsibility will pass to local authorities (LAs).

This does raise some initial concerns regarding funding and whether the skills and knowledge currently exist within the upper tier of the LAs. Resources need to be in place for the planned implementation of the new regulations and standards, expected in late 2011, which is not a great deal of time considering the confusion within the industry surrounding SUDS best practice.

New construction projects that include a provision for new drainage systems will need to have the drainage design approved upfront prior to any work commencing on-site. This represents a significant change to current practices and will place increased pressure on the planning process and undoubtedly have an impact on engineers and contractors.

Under the FWMA, applications for SUDS approval can be made via two routes:

·Standard planning process

· Via a separate application to a SUDS Approval Body (SAB)

These SABs will form part of the upper tier of LAs, unless government approves an outside organisation, such as a water company, as an approval body. The FMWA sets out clear directives for sustainable drainage and water management best practice. Local authorities have a duty to adopt any drainage system meeting the requirements of the FMWA and this lies at the core of the new legislation. The previous automatic right to connect to a sewer has now been removed and is conditional on having an approved drainage scheme in place.

The Water Framework Directive is the most substantial piece of water legislation from the EU commission and the major driver for the sustainable management of water. It determines that all inland and coastal waters should reach at least good status by 2015 by focusing on improving the quality of surface water run-off discharged from site to reduce the risk of localised flooding and encourage biodiversity within natural watercourses.

Water quality
Whilst engineers and contractors are familiar with the concept of managing the quantity surface water run-off through above and below-ground sustainable drainage applications, dealing with water quality will begin to creep up on the industry and could present a significant challenge if we do not begin to prepare for it now.

There is now a good deal of experience in the UK in terms of managing surface water quantity, but the industry cannot assume that adequate provision will be made for dealing with water quality as part of the Surface Water Management Plans (SWMP) drawn up by local authorities.

A good water management strategy needs to deliver sustainable and environmentally sound solutions that limit contamination and subsequent pollution of the local environment, but the only way in which to really achieve this is to ensure that the appropriate application is selected for the end use.

Dr Jason Shingleton is marketing and development director at Polypipe Water Management Solutions.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie