Northumbrian Water uses SuDS method to reduce flood risk in Gateshead

Innovative ‘surface water attenuation bumps’ will reduce flood risk

Sept 30th 2014

Northumbrian Water is about to start work on a sustainable urban drainage scheme to reduce the risk of surface water flooding on an estate in Gateshead. The sustainable urban drainage scheme will protect 18 homes on the Gateshead estate.

Work on the £600,000 project is scheduled to take 24 weeks and will include the building of two ‘surface water attenuation bumps’ to reduce the amount of storm water flowing into the estate in periods of heavy rainfall. The surface water attenuation bumps will assist drainage by diverting rainwater into the road gulleys.

The project also involves the installation of a new 700m sewer pipe and the creation of two water storage basins. The grassed storage basins will be able to hold a total of 1.2 million litres of excess surface water. The programme of work is due to start on 6th October and the surface water attenuation bumps are the first of their kind undertaken by the water company.

As reported by Water Briefing, Ashley Ferguson, Northumbrian Water’s project manager, said: “Reducing the risk of flooding in an efficient and sustainable way, to ensure we are prepared for the future, is one of our top priorities. A first for Northumbrian Water, installing these speed bumps demonstrates a creative and innovative approach to preventing surface water run-off, which is a crucial element in our efforts to tackling flooding.”


Flood Risk, Sediment Contamination and ‘The Archers’

Degraded soils increase flood risk, says agricultural adviser to The Archers

Sept 29th 2014

The environmental impact of agricultural practice on the UK’s rivers was a feature in a recent episode of The Archers on BBC Radio Four. On a BBC blog post, Graham Harvey, agricultural adviser to The Archers, writes: “After that freak storm, the Am river – from which Ambridge gets its name – has turned brown.” This mirrors what is happening to rivers across the UK, he continues, and – though the colouring of the waters varies according to the local soil type – the change in colour has the same cause, which is the increasing amounts of topsoil being washed down from the fields and into our rivers.

Decades of treating farmland with chemical fertilisers and pesticides has damaged the billions of organisms that make up the living part of soils, he says, and as a result “large areas of farmland are becoming less and less able to carry on their normal functions of growing healthy crops and retaining moisture.” Degraded soils collapse and erode every time there’s a heavy rainstorm, he continues, colouring our rivers but also increasing the risk of flooding. Degraded soils hold less water than healthy ones, which means there’s an increase in run-off from fields into rivers, whilst the silts washing into rivers slow down their flow and further increase the risk of flooding.

Sedimentation and River Improvements

The Rivers Trust responded to The Archers programme by reminding listeners of its River Improvement Fund Programme. The programme enabled the delivery of more than 200 river improvement projects throughout England between 2010 and 2014. 28 individual rivers trusts were involved in the projects, which included work on the upper reaches of the River Wandle, South London. Here, faggot bundles were used to retain recovered sediment and to form the base of a new bank. Biodegradable sediment mats and associated trapped silt were incorporated into the site and made ready for planting.

In its report on the River Improvement Fund Programme, the Rivers Trust says that the drainage of agricultural land has been common practice for many years, and a side effect of this has been the straightening of watercourses to allow water to escape quickly from the surrounding area. “Sudden high flow rates can transport sediment at alarming rates, frequently depositing the sediment into water courses where they coat the bed of the river, starving aquatic life of light and oxygen. Topsoil can also be lost at an alarming rate when fields are ploughed adjacent to rivers and streams.”

Sediment Contamination

A further problem with degraded soils is the increased risk of sediment contamination. Sediment contamination, and action on remediation, has been highlighted as needing attention in a recent publication by Sednet, the European sediment network. Available as a PDF document, the report Moving Sediment Management Forward says that a better understanding is required of the current statuses of rivers and coastlines to ensure the reliability of hydromorphological assessments and interventions. It also argues that remediation and protection must be integrated into river basin plans, and this requires an improved understanding of the underlying sediment processes for both source control and legacy contamination.

The report, published in July, argues that there is a need to develop approaches to sediment management at a catchment scale. “Sediment processes at catchment scale are complex because of the episodic nature of sediment transfer and storage times within the system,” it says. “Sediment transport in rivers is mainly dependent on the river discharge, which can vary considerably.” It also says that the quantitative and the qualitative aspects of sediment management are closely interrelated: “Contaminants are being transported with the particles. Thus, sediment and contaminants undergo the same transport processes, but, in addition, chemical processes may alter contaminants, and may make them more or less bioavailable.” Brownfield Briefing says that the importance of remediating contaminated sediments is increasingly recognised in America but has received little attention in the UK.

Planning for Storms, Planning for Drought – News from Wales

Natural Resources Wales develops its coastal flooding delivery plan whilst Welsh Water develops its drought strategy

Sept 26th 2014

Natural Resources Wales publishes environmental audit and plans a more integrated approach to coastal management

Natural Resources Wales has carried out an environmental audit on the impact of the recent winter storms on wildlife and coastal conservation sites. An initial audit was carried out at the end of January 2014 following the two months of storm surges, powerful waves and high tides which caused considerable disruption along the Welsh coast. Over 80 records of environmental change were submitted and collated but Natural Resources Wales says that a more comprehensive approach is needed for the future, involving citizen science, social media and working with partners.

On its website, Natural Resources Wales says that “with the potential for increased storm magnitude and frequency due to climate change, it will be increasingly important to understand the vulnerability and resilience of our coastal habitats, species and geoconservation interests. Many of these are highly designated and will enable us to make appropriate detailed plans for the future of these sites.”

With regard to the future, Natural Resources Wales plans to build on the current Shoreline Management Planning process by expanding the requirements of local delivery plans. Local delivery plans for coastal areas, it says, will need to include consideration of the wider environment and the full range of ecosystem services to improve sustainability, deliver adaptation where appropriate, and build resilience to climate change: “We will be considering the next steps along with our partners as part of the wider Coastal Flooding Review Delivery Plan. This will help to deliver a more integrated approach to coastal management going forwards.”

A report of the environmental audit has now been published and Natural Resources Wales says that the report serves as a record of the degree of associated environmental change on both the physical environment and wildlife: “From this we can learn lessons from the storms and consider the implications for future environmental management and conservation in Wales.”

The report is available as a PDF download from Natural Resources Wales.

Natural Resources Wales has also published its Annual Report, which outlines its performance against key targets and measures set by the Welsh Government.

Welsh Water consults on draft Drought Plan

Dŵr Cymru (Welsh Water) has published its draft Drought Plan 2014. The plan is now open for public consultation with a deadline of October 31st for the submission of responses. The plan summarises how the company intends to maintain water supplies in times of drought to 1.2 million domestic and 110,000 business customers in Wales, Herefordshire and parts of Cheshire. It supersedes Welsh Water’s 2011 Drought Plan and will be effective for five years from the final publication date.

The most significant updates in the 2014 plan include improvements to the setting of drought triggers and “drought action zones” through better scenario testing, and improving understanding of the environment through ongoing monitoring. Hosepipe bans have been renamed temporary-use bans and the company’s consultation document outlines how it proposes to implement these new drought powers when required. Welsh Water says that the plan also outlines “how we will communicate to our customers prior to, during and following a drought period, and how we will report the ways in which we are able to mitigate against any impact that our proposed drought schemes might have on the environment.”

All water companies in England and Wales are required to publish a draft drought plan and carry out a public consultation, and this plan has been prepared in accordance with the relevant legislative requirements including the Habitats and SEA Directives. For further information see the Dŵr Cymru website.

Three Red Cards for the Government in Environmental Audit Report

Flooding and coastal protection, air pollution and biodiversity awarded red cards in report by Environmental Audit Committee

Sept 25th 2014

In a scorecard assessment of the Government’s green policies, the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee has looked at the Government’s performance in ten areas and awarded it a red card for three areas and an amber card for the remaining seven. Its efforts to reduce air pollution, protect biodiversity, and reduce the risk of flooding were all given red cards.

The Chair of the Committee, Joan Walley MP, said: “Our inquiry provides a wide-ranging examination of the state of the environment and shows that further and continued effort is required to protect it properly. A dedicated, wide-ranging ‘Environmental Strategy’ is needed, overseen by a new ‘Office for Environmental Responsibility’ to ensure the Government meets the requirements to protect human health and the natural world.”

The National Audit Office (NAO) published a review of Environmental Protection in July 2010, following the Prime Minister’s statement that he wanted the government to be “the greenest government ever.” The NAO examined 10 key environmental protection areas and published a follow-up review in June 2014 assessing progress in the same 10 areas. The Environmental Audit Committee’s report includes the NAO’s assessment of those 10 areas and recommended actions.

On flooding and coastal protection, the Committee says that 2.4 million properties are still at risk of flooding from rivers or the sea, and three million from surface water. More should be done to restrict the building of new homes on floodplains, says the report, and to reduce surface water flooding by integrating sustainable drainage systems into new developments.

On biodiversity, the Committee notes that the Government’s Biodiversity 2020 Indicators set targets for biodiversity to be achieved by 2020. Defra’s first assessment of progress against the Indicators in 2013 showed improvement against 13 measures, deterioration against 13 measures and little or no change in 11.

On air pollution, the report says that emissions of a number of airborne pollutants increased in 2013, after being steady between 2010 and 2012 and declining for a long time before 2010. The UK failed to meet targets for nitrogen dioxide pollution in 34 of the 43 zones specified in the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive in 2012, resulting in the European Commission launching infraction proceedings against the UK in February 2014 with regard to 16 zones that would not be compliant by 2015.

The Committee also notes the abandonment of the EU soil framework directive proposal, and recommends that the Government looks again at land management and soil erosion and the funding situation with regard to contaminated land remediation. The report notes the concerns of Environmental Protection UK and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) about the withdrawal of central Government grants to local authorities for doing work on contaminated land remediation. The CIEH told the Committee that “without the prospect of necessary remediation being funded, it would be a reckless local authority which determined a site as contaminated without having identified an appropriate person able to pay.”

In conclusion, the Chair of the Committee said: “Effective action on environmental protection is essential, both during the current Parliament and beyond. Parties should therefore be considering credible environmental protection in their manifestos. I want them to use our report as both a wake-up call and a template for the measures that need to be put forward.”

For further information on the report, see “News from Parliament”.


Photograph: House Sparrow by Licensed under Creative Commons. The House Sparrow has an RSPB red status, meaning it has the highest conservation priority and needs urgent action. The RSPB says that monitoring suggests a severe decline in the UK house sparrow population, recently estimated as dropping by 71 per cent between 1977 and 2008 with substantial declines in both rural and urban populations.

Managing flood risk in England – Government publishes progress report

The Environment Agency has published a report on “Managing flood and coastal erosion risks in England” which covers the period April 2013 to the end of March 2014

Sept 24th 2014

Flood and coastal erosion risk management in England is the responsibility of risk management authorities, which include the Environment Agency, lead local flood authorities, internal drainage boards, water and sewerage companies and the Highways Agency. The Environment Agency report, published this month, provides a summary of the National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management (FCERM) Strategy in England, first published in 2011, and is a statutory requirement under the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. The summary covers the period from April 2013 to the end of March 2014.

Summarising the report, the Agency’s Chief Executive says that several new flood risk management schemes have been completed this year, reducing risk to over 36,000 households, and almost a quarter of lead local flood authorities have now completed their local flood risk management strategy. The report describes examples of schemes underway or completed, including Anglian Water’s partnership schemes to reduce the risk of surface water flooding through the use of sustainable drainage systems (SuDS).

Investment Costs

The Environment Agency invested £636 million on FCERM in England during the period. Of this, £358 million was capital investment, including £71 million distributed to local councils and internal drainage boards. In addition, Defra will invest more than £370 million in the financial year 2015 to 2016, rising with inflation over a six-year period to over £400 million in 2020 to 2021. The government has provided £100 million in additional funding during the period for flood repair and recovery work, with the commitment of a further £140 million for the current financial year. The sums will be used for maintaining Environment Agency priority assets (£70m), implementing the Somerset Levels and Moors Flood Action Plan (£10m), and repairing essential risk management authority assets and maintenance works (£160m).

Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS)

With regard to future plans, the report states that risk management authorities are working with CIRIA (the Construction Industry Research and Information Association) and other industry partners to update the guidance on sustainable drainage systems (SuDS). CIRIA will also produce guidance to help estimate the value of the benefits of sustainable drainage systems to encourage more partners to use them. The guidance is planned for spring 2015.

The report also says that “the government remains committed to implementing SuDS at the earliest available opportunity. A statement will be made in the summer which will set out in greater detail plans for implementation. Secondary legislation setting out the implementation date would be expected to be laid in parliament approximately six months before that date.” For the latest developments with regard to SuDS implementation, see our news item “Sustainable Drainage Systems – Defra announces a change of plan”.

For further information on the report, see the GOV.UK website.

The full report can be downloaded as a PDF document by clicking here.

Sustainable Drainage Systems – Defra announces a change of plan

Defra consults on plans to deliver SuDS through the existing planning system

Changes to planning policy could come into force by Spring 2015, says Defra

Sept 23rd 2014

Defra has announced a consultation on the government’s plans to deliver sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) through the planning system in England. The government’s proposals represent an alternative approach to SuDS delivery compared to the one envisaged in the Flood and Water Management Act of 2010.

The 2010 Act included measures to increase the uptake of SuDS, following an independent review of the causes of the 2007 floods in the UK [1]. The measures, set out in Schedule 3 of the Act, included a new regime for the approval and adoption of SuDS, separate from the current planning system.

A consultation was held on the implementation of Schedule 3 which ran from December 2011 to March 2012. Respondents to that consultation, including representatives from local government, identified a number of concerns for further consideration by central government.

Those concerns, says Defra, included the impact on development of approving sustainable drainage systems under a separate consenting regime from that which approves planning applications, and the fact that these regimes were to have been run by two different parts of local government, rather than just the one. Respondents were also concerned about a further risk of delay if local authorities were not fully prepared to take on their new duties, including a new duty to maintain sustainable drainage systems that had been approved. Additional concerns were raised by local government about the mechanism for charging householders to pay for sustainable drainage systems maintenance.

New proposals aim to deliver “effective sustainable drainage systems that will be maintained for the lifetime of the developments they serve”

In a new consultation document published this month, Defra sets out an alternative approach to the delivery of sustainable drainage systems. The new proposals build on the existing planning system which developers and local authorities are already using. According to Defra, the other advantage of this alternative approach is that policy changes to the planning system can be introduced relatively quickly, ensuring that the flood risk benefits of sustainable drainage systems can be brought forward as soon as possible.

Defra says that, subject to the outcome of the new consultation, any changes to planning policy would come into force in the spring of 2015. For further information, see the GOV.UK website at “Citizen Space”.

The consultation document can be downloaded as a PDF by clicking here.


[1] The Pitt Review concluded that SuDS were an effective way to reduce the risk of ‘flash-flooding’ which occurs when rainwater rapidly flows into the public sewerage and drainage system, causing overloading and back-up of water to the surface. Typically, sustainable drainage systems slow the rate of surface water run-off and improve infiltration, thus mimicking natural drainage.

Sustainable Water 2014 – Water Industry Conference and Exhibition

Balancing economics and the environment; Reducing energy usage and carbon emissions – Two challenges for the water industry

Sept 17th 2014

Next week sees a two-day event for the water industry organised by WWT (Water and Wastewater Treatment) which will be held at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole. Day One of Sustainable Water 2014 takes place on 23rd September and features a conference on Water Industry Energy and Carbon Management. Day Two on 24th September is devoted to a conference on Environmental Water Management.

WWT says that “the UK water industry is in a difficult position of balancing economic considerations with environmental ones. What’s more, long-term sustainable environmental water management requires a wide-reaching integrated approach.” The two-day event features representatives from a number of water companies across the UK who will be discussing their various approaches to tackling the challenges of building resilience and sustainability into their business.

Day One: Water Industry Energy & Carbon Management

Day One of Sustainable Water 2014 on 23rd September addresses the challenges of reducing energy usage and carbon emissions and increasing renewable energy investment. Will Parsons of WWT says that the water industry is the largest consumer of energy in the UK and is responsible for 3% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions: “Recognising that they are best placed to reduce emissions and become a significant generator of renewable energy, the most ambitious water companies aspire to carbon neutrality by 2050.” The day’s sessions include:

  • Carbon targets and infrastructure investment
  • Reducing energy cost and consumption
  • Energy recovery
  • Meeting audit requirements
  • Renewables projects and investment

Representatives from a number of water companies will be discussing these topics, including:

  • Anglian Water: Investing in efficiency infrastructure to deliver cost-effective and sustainable projects
  • Scottish Water: Our energy strategy and self-sufficient treatment works
  • Yorkshire Water: Achieving renewable energy performance through production behaviour
  • Thames Water: Working with customers to fulfil our renewable energy ambition
  • United Utilities: Monetising energy-intensive equipment to offset rising energy costs

Day Two: Environmental Water Management

Day Two of Sustainable Water 2014 on 24th September examines the challenges of balancing economics and the environment. The day’s sessions include:

  • Integrated water resource management
  • Improving water quality and reducing pollution
  • Flood risk management
  • Pioneering approaches to supply resilience and sustainable water

The sessions will also feature a number of representatives from water companies across the UK, including:

  • Dŵr Cymru (Welsh Water): An evidence-based approach and its impact on decision-making
  • Severn Trent Water: Our approach to the sustainable implementation of the Water Framework Directive
  • South-West Water: Building a better water future through twenty-first century catchment management
  • Wessex Water: Exploring cost-effective methods to safeguard water supplies from nitrates and pesticides

Both days will also include representatives from local government, government agencies and regulatory bodies including the Environment Agency and Ofwat.

Sustainable Water is an annual event. For the latest news, see the conference website.