According to World Bank data, in 2017 over 4bn people - more than 54% of the world’s population were living in towns and cities, and by 2050 it is projected that 70% of the population will be in urban areas.
Richard warneford crop
That means more and more land being built on or paved over to accommodate the urban dwellers. Ecologists are understandably concerned. But what about drainage engineers? Coupled with an increase in extreme weather events, urbanisation presents a significant water management challenge.
We have spent the last 150 years (ever since Bazalgette built his London sewage network) collecting surface water and putting it in pipes. But is that really the only solution? In 2013, academics from nine UK universities joined together to look at flood resilience and water management.
The Blue-Green cities research project used Newcastle as the project demonstration city, and explored a very different way of managing surface water. A Blue-Green City aims to “recreate a naturally-oriented water cycle while contributing to the amenity of the city by bringing water management and green infrastructure together”. Done well, this has the potential to generate significant environmental, ecological, socio-cultural and economic benefits.
In 2016, Northumbrian Water joined with a range of partners, including Newcastle City Council, the Environment Agency, Newcastle University, Arup and Royal HaskoningDHV, in being the first organisations in the country to explicitly commit to the blue-green approach. Only a few weeks back, they formally reaffirmed that pledge. It is our hope that by doing this, we can encourage others to do the same.
Working together, they have an increased access to insightful research and an expansive base of knowledge, expertise and information, which enables them to develop innovative and sustainable solutions to protect homes and businesses from flooding.
It has turned Newcastle into a unique test bed for new approaches to flood mitigation.
Working with Newcastle City Council and Newcastle University, they have helped introduce blue-green infrastructure to the city’s Science Central development – now known as Helix, including a sustainable drainage facility for testing new approaches to tackling the issue.
The aim is to build on this and projects such as the one where we worked with the Environment Agency and the City Council to divert the Ouseburn and use the original river channel for additional flood water storage, reducing the risk of flooding to nearby homes.
The work being done helps the group to be pioneers – isn’t that one of the most exciting things about being civil engineers? And it can help us to reduce the risk of flooding for many of our customers – and isn’t making life better for people, shaping a better civilisation, one of the other reasons we got into this industry?
- Richard Warneford is an ICE member and Wastewater Director at Northumbrian Water Group