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Lack of SuDS Leadership is Draining a Valuable Resource

Although Sustainable Urban Drainage systems have been official policy since 2005, the practise of integrating drainage design into urban landscapes has been interminably slow in terms of implementation. What are the barriers to the widespread adaptation of SuDS in Ireland?

SuDS make use of landscape and natural vegetation to control the flow of surface water and reduce the risk of flooding. Designs can include ponds, permeable paving and swales, which slow down the discharge of surface water more than conventional piped drainage.

Surface runoff water can also be a major source of pollution, both directly and from overwhelmed sewers discharging into rivers. SuDS are designed to improve water quality while being more resilient and longer lasting than conventional drainage.

If we look at the issue of SuDS in Ireland from a Dublin perspective, the Greater Dublin Strategic Drainage Study (GDSDS) was completed in 2005 and involved all seven Local Authorities from the Greater Dublin Area. The objective of the data from these reports was to ensure that any future urban developments did not divert water in a way that would increase the prevalence of flooding. 

According to Brian O’Donovan, an Associate Engineer with Consultants, Roughan O’Donovan, the implementation of SuDS initiatives by Local Authorities in Dublin and elsewhere in the country has been complicated in some places by the establishment of Irish Water, which now has responsibility for what was previously a local authority run service. 

Writing in 2016, he said; “International best practice tells us that we need a single organisation with responsibility for water management including foul drainage, water supply and storm water management at catchment level. This organisation needs to be supported by strong, political commitment, at national and local level, to educate, incentivise and inform communities of the benefits of SuDS.

This is not the Irish model. Irish Water is responsible for the foul and combined sewer systems (the agglomeration licensed by the EPA), but excludes surface water sewers. More fundamentally, it is removed from the local arena with no accountability at local level.”

In his report, written for Engineers Ireland, he said that there was no leadership in Ireland driving the SuDS agenda, there was an absence of public awareness and understanding of SuDS and that current SuDS policy in Ireland is restricted to new developments requiring planning permission only. These problems are not unique to Ireland, with the UK also seeing a slow uptake in terms of mandatory SuDS being incorporated into new builds. 

Of course, while SuDS incorporation into new builds makes eminent sense, the problems becomes bigger in relation to retrofitting SuDS capability. “Countries such as Australia, the US and the UK have encountered many of the same difficulties along their path to achieving successful water management practices,” adds Brian O’Donovan. He contends that there is huge importance in both regulatory and incentive based approaches when it comes to encouraging SuDS implementation in both new developments and retrofits on older developments. 

“Demonstration projects are regarded as a very useful tool in educating and garnering acceptance of household charges for storm water discharge,” he argues. He adds that the scale of protests that occurred in relation to water charges shows that water is to thje forefront of public consciousness, and it must now be capitalised upon by implementing systems that maximise the value of water as an essential resource; “This challenge requires a multi-disciplinary approach across all sectors of society including professionals such as engineers, architects, planners, central government and local government sectors and the general public.”


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