How might SuDS look in the Water Industry’s (brave) new world…
Peter Martin, Technical Director, Black & Veatch
April 2015 is an important month in the world of SuDS. Not only is a Ministerial Statement expected to set out policy on SuDS where Local Planning Authority (LPA) and Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA) roles will hopefully be clarified; but 1 April marks the start of the next regulatory periods in the UK Water Industry; (AMP6 covering 2015-20 for the water companies in England & Wales, and SR15 covering 2015-21 for Scottish Water).
Willingly or unwittingly, directly or indirectly, proactively or reactively, our water companies are key stakeholders in all new or retrofit drainage schemes.
Our water companies have just concluded an extensive period of consultation with their economic regulator, Ofwat, over their business plans. During the planning for, and delivery of, those business plans, our water companies have to address a number of strategic regulatory themes that all appear to play to the strengths and benefits of SuDS solutions. So, what are some of the potential implications?
- Customer engagement
Customers’ views have been sought on the outcomes that they expect from the water companies’ activities. Unsurprisingly, the need to reduce or remove sewer flooding figures highly in customers’ priorities.
Clearly, using SuDS prevents surface water flows from entering sewers in the first place, and managing that surface water run-off through closely mimicking nature at any location is a further mitigation in addressing this challenge. But equally importantly, the whole customer engagement process has started to raise awareness of all water-related issues amongst householders. Such knowledge also helps reinforce the active involvement, understanding and stewardship by property owners and community engagement that can reinforce the successful operation of many SuDS techniques.
The downward pressure on water bills to make sure that they remain affordable to customers means a continuous pursuit of efficiencies and optimum cost solutions to deliver ‘more for less’.
As discussed elsewhere on this website, SuDS techniques usually comprise less complex infrastructure than more traditional drainage solutions, and thereby have lower whole life costs. In addition, using SuDS can help reduce pressure on overloaded combined sewers, combined sewer overflows, pumping stations and wastewater treatment plants; thereby reducing the need for expensive upgrading of these water company assets.
Water company costs are now considered on a total expenditure basis rather than the previous capital expenditure (capex) and operating expenditure (opex) basis; with the aim of addressing the previously perceived bias to deliver solutions by building assets.
SuDS usually have multiple stakeholders gaining multiple benefits. The change in emphasis of cost allocation within water companies seems to suggest that water companies will now be able to participate with others in jointly funding projects that do not in themselves add to the water company’s asset base. Of course, the water companies will still need to be able to demonstrate to their customers and regulators that their contributions are made proportionate to the benefits gained by their customers.
The Water Act 2014 placed a resilience duty on Ofwat. It is a term used by politicians (and others) to reassure the general public, but nobody quite knows what it means in the context of water and wastewater services. Therefore, Ofwat has recently created a resilience working group to try and obtain greater definition and clarity following more consultations with customers.
Until this clarity is provided, the basic principle of SuDS mimicking the natural drainage of an area makes them more resilient to climate change, dealing with exceedances and reducing abstractions. These considerations also play well into integrated catchment management approaches and safeguarding water resources. SuDS contribute to the resilience of a catchment both during periods of heavy rain and during times when water resources are stressed.
All these themes seem to signal and promote the potential for a greater and wider engagement with and by the water companies. But what do our colleagues in those companies think?