What is the future of drainage?

When I’ve asked people this question, I’m generally greeted with a blank face. It is a tough one, to be fair. With environmental disasters on the rise and stormwater management being a greater priority than ever for governments (or so it should be), it is difficult to assess what the future looks like. And with that in mind, Wavin, along with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and ecobuild, decided to join forces and ask this question together.

What do we hope to achieve?

Well, for a start we want to know what the industry currently thinks! As the leading event for forward thinkers in the built environment, ecobuild has been a natural partner for our series of roundtable discussions around the future of drainage. And secondly, to start giving the issue the prominence it so desperately needs.

Drainage is pretty much, well, drainage. The first evidence of drainage pipes dates back to Mesopotamia, around 5,000 years ago. Despite much advancement across the wider built environment, very little has changed in the world of drainage since then, other than perhaps, the materials from which pipes are made and, more certainly, the weather and urban challenges we now face.

In the UK alone, 2.44 million properties are at risk of flooding from rivers and seas, while 3 million are vulnerable to surface water flooding. Moreover, the housing crisis is likely to force more homes to be built in flood-prone areas. The magnitude of collateral damage that flooding brings is hardly surprising; each year, disruption from flooding costs the UK £1bn, with the cost only growing.

What is the role of SuDS?

Twenty years or so ago, the concept of Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems started to be discussed as a way of managing stormwater more effectively. These quickly evolved into ‘SuDS’. Dropping the ‘Urban’ (and making the u small) was a small, but significant step, liberating the concept away from only urban developments with the realisation that stormwater management, and flood protection, required a collective responsibility and wasn’t the sole responsibility of the urban environment.

The Flood and Water Management Act (2010) contains all the elements that would require SuDS to be included in all future developments, however the government is yet to implement the relevant clause (well done Wales on pushing ahead with this, I’m sure many on the England side of the border will be watching with interest).

Despite the reticence of government to implement the legislation, SuDS have proved a successful alternative for traditional stormwater management via sewer within the built environment. However, is this it? Have we cracked the code to effective drainage? Or is this just a stepping stone that leads us to an even better solution? These are some of the things we are aiming to explore in more detail.

Are there other factors to consider?

And that leads us on to another key question – does part of the answer lie in technology? All around us technology is shaping infrastructure. Many homes are now fitted with smart meters for utilities and we’re controlling central heating with apps on our phones. On a much larger scale, previously congested motorways are running better than before via smart flow management. I know water companies are looking at how technology can help better predict where problems may occur before they do, and it may be that one day we see smart sewers, whatever they might look like.

What is the solution?

What we do know is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. SuDS is only part of the answer but it’s apparent that the bigger picture is what really matters. Cities like Portland, Oregon, lead the way in developing a community based city-wide strategy that delivers a safer, cleaner and drier environment for its inhabitants; perhaps that’s the future of drainage?

There is no doubt that this subject requires a much wider discussion and the input of different professionals across the built environment. Therefore, as part of our ongoing engagement, we are coming to ecobuild in March with a mission to involve the industry in a wide-scale conversation around the future of drainage – and hopefully, gain informed, well considered recommendations influenced by the knowledge and expertise of everyone, from civil engineers and architects to designers and manufacturers.

So, if you want to be part of this industry-wide, future focussed brainstorm on the future of drainage, mark your calendars and keep an eye out for Wavin at ecobuild 2018.

Ahead of the event, you can also contribute your thoughts on the future of drainage by visiting: www.futureofdrainage.co.uk.