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Soap and SUDS

Author Fran Southgate

water vs concrete
water vs concrete

Way back when there were only the birds and the bees around, natural storms and floods didnt really matter too much in the grand scheme of things. Cycles of species followed the ups and downs of periods of natural flux - some things died out, some things survived.

Now that people are so dominant in the landscape however, weve started to get annoyed when this rainy stuff floods our houses and stops us from getting to work. Never mind that none of us can survive without water, we prefer it to arrive in nice, neat and clean packages, through a tap or in a plastic bottle from a shelf. Through the letterbox is understandably a little bit more than we can cope with!

In order to avoid getting wet and cold, weve built ourselves impermeable houses (with the exception of all the houses I rented as a student which all seemed to develop their own wetland habitats!). In order to avoid getting our nice clean car stuck in a muddy rut, weve built impermeable surfaces to drive on. The invention of modern concrete in the early 1800s made this whole process a lot quicker and easier. Most people, if theyre honest, have concreted over their garden because they dont have the time to spend battling with nature and a big pile of weeds.

In the past, small areas of paved surfaces would have been fine in a way they mimic nature by simulating impermeable rocky landscapes. The trouble is, these days, there are a lot of us around billions in fact, and we all want one of these nice impermeable boxes to live in.

The cumulative effect of putting all these hard concrete surfaces on the countryside, so that water cant filter through into the ground, is huge. Add in thousands of miles of drains which take water off the landscape at high speed, and suddenly we have created a very efficient mimic of a bare sided mountain a cold, hard surface, off which water races at frightening speeds, and stops water from filtering into the valuable underground reservoirs that we need for drinking water. Add in the millions of mega litres of sewage and soap that we chuck down the drain every day and you can start to see the kind of mess were creating.

And theres no doubt about it, we have created a mess. One which means that on an annual basis, whole communities are brought to their knees by deluges of rain which end up coming through their door in a muddy, rubbish strewn tidal wave. Its a huge problem at the moment, especially with more intense rainfall patterns becoming the norm.

No one is going to sort this out over night, but surprisingly there are solutions. Rain gardens, (or as they are technically known, Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems) have been shown to be a terrific success in places like Oregon, USA. Here, the myriad small niches in the urban landscape are used to store urban surface water, in a way that not only significantly takes the sting out of urban floods, but which also creates pockets of attractive green in an otherwise grey and barren landscape.

Green roofs, permeable pavement, water butts, living walls and ponds are just a few of the SUDS that we can put into our landscapes to help stop all the flooding. Some of them are very simple things that even the less technical minded of us can do others require a little more planning but are nonetheless amazing. Have a look at green walls on Google

some of them are stunning and can even create spaces to grow local food.

To give you a much better idea of urban drainage effects and how to reduce them have a look at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and RSPB publication Sustainable Drainage Systems.

Theyve certainly got me thinking how about you?

Green roof at University of Michigan / Corey Seeman Green roof at University of Michigan / Corey Seeman

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