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Futurebuild 2019: UK needs to harvest rainwater to deal with climate change

07 March 2019

ICE Past President Professor David Balmforth proposes sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) as a water storage solution. 

Futurebuild 2019: UK needs to harvest rainwater to deal with climate change

The UK will need to harvest rainwater to meet the challenges posed by increasing population growth and climate change, ICE Past President Professor David Balmforth has said.

Balmforth, who’s also Executive Technical Director at Stantec, was speaking at a Futurebuild panel discussion on the water challenges for new developments.

Revealing the scale of the challenges, Balmforth said that the UK population is due to increase by 3.5 million in the next 10 years, with much of the growth projected to take place in the south east of England.

As a result, a quarter more housing will need to be built in the next year alone, he said.

Quoting research from Oxford University, Balmforth said that water-saving devices and water transfer across regions won’t be enough to meet the demands on water resources.

“Even if we were successful, we would still fall short. We need to create an additional local water resource,” he said.

SuDS for water storage

Suggesting rainwater harvesting as the solution, Balmforth also proposed that sustainable urban drainage systems (SuDS) be used for water storage.

“It’s already possible to do that,” he said. “We have the technology.”

Referring to examples of new rainwater harvesting systems in Germany, Balmforth suggested that innovative capture and use of surface water could also help to tackle rising temperatures caused by climate change.

He warned against burying water as the default option and proposed that building more water and vegetation into the urban landscape would offer benefits to the community.

‘Slow progress’

While rainwater storage via SuDS would help tackle the dual issues of increasing water demand and flood risk, Balmforth considers progress to be slow.

“We’re still building in flood risk areas … we’re still struggling in England to get SuDS adopted,” he warned.

He said that 35% more properties will be at risk of flooding in the future, with “almost zero resilience”.

Increased regulation?

Balmforth suggests that more regulation is needed. He said: “If we don’t use a little bit of the regulatory stick, we’re not going to make it.”

Fellow panellist, Elaine Gallagher, a researcher at Cranfield University, agreed that there were gaps in governance, leading to a challenge for SuDS implementation. “What we need are more integrated approaches for managing water in the built environment,” she said.

“Stakeholders – especially water companies and those in the development industry – need to be more proactive in pushing for new approaches, not just reactive to societal trends.”

  • Vienn McMasters, communications business partner for ICE