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Jason's blog: Water Framework Directive is call for action

Tackling the issue of surface water run-off has never been more prevalent, says Polypipe Civils general manager Jason Shingleton

New regulations and recommendations are now driving the introduction of innovative water management and drainage solutions. However, we have now reached a point in the UK where our understanding and experience of controlling excess surface water is now much improved, which leads us onto the next challenge – dealing with the issue of water quality.

Following on from the Government’s Future Water strategy launched in February, there still appears to be a mindset within the UK that is focused predominantly on coping with water quantity, without taking into consideration the issue of surface water contamination and its environmental impacts.

Rainwater from roads, car parks and metal roof areas is often highly contaminated with pollutants such as silt, debris, de-icing salts, detergents, hydrocarbons and heavy metals. Once these contaminants enter the groundwater, then the local ecology is under serious threat, with effects of pollutants within the watercourse often amplified further downstream.

The Water Framework Directive is the most substantial piece of water legislation to date and is due for implementation from 2009. These new guidelines will drive the requirements for cleaner surface water and also includes a complete ban on discharging any pollutants into surface or groundwater by 2015.

Primarily, the Water Framework Directive recommends that stormwater should be dealt with at source before being allowed to run off-site in an effort to protect local watercourses from contamination, encourage natural groundwater recharge and reduce the likelihood of downstream flooding. Whilst this first stage is already widely implemented across the UK, it is the following recommendation which states that the surface water must be cleaned at source, as well as controlled , which may cause initial problems.

This new directive represents a significant gear-change for the UK civil engineering and construction industries. As the most substantial piece of water management legislation to date, the Water Framework Directive is the first initiative that will actually address the sustainability issue within the UK. The changes brought about by its introduction will create a shift in the specification and implementation of stormwater treatment products. By acting now, civil engineers and contractors can ensure they are prepared to deal with the requirements set out by the new regulations.

Other countries across Western Europe have already adopted a variety of techniques and methods to reduce the environmental impact of surface water contamination. We are currently several years behind in our methods of improving stormwater treatment and surface water quality and a more proactive approach to forthcoming legislation would reduce the gap in adopted technologies and best practice.

The recommendations drawn-out by the Water Framework Directive will benefit those involved in the specification and installation process by providing clearer guidance and setting the design standards and best-practice on-site. Going forward, adhering to these new standards will encourage future industry developments and provide long-term solutions for both the handling and treatment of excess surface water.

A good water management strategy needs to deliver sustainable and environmentally sound solutions which limit contamination and subsequent pollution of the local watercourse, but the only way in which to really achieve this is to ensure that the appropriate product or application is selected for the end use.

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