Understanding SUDS

Water management is a subject that most people rarely reflect upon; hosepipe bans, domestic drain blockages, and the appearance of veritable duck ponds on public roads, not withstanding.

In the public mind, water management systems generally amount to a network of dank drains and unseen pipes carrying rainwater from our streets, and miraculously delivering fresh tap water to our homes.

What’s new in drainage?

If asked about what’s new or different in today’s approach to water management, most people would probably murmur vaguely about ceramic, lead or copper pipes being replaced by plastic products – but then assert that systems and concepts of water management are essentially the same today as they’ve always been. Right?

Wrong! Such an uninformed view could not be further from the truth, and would surely serve to reflect a predominant lack of public awareness about the revolutionary developments currently taking place in drainage and surface water management.

Classic street drain

A changing world

Our built environments have changed greatly over the past 50 years, as urban landscapes have grown exponentially; likewise, global weather patterns and climates have undergone transformative changes. As a result, our predominant concepts of water management have to change too.

Rising SUDS

Arguably, the most intelligent concept to emerge in response to the new environmental realities is sustainable drainage systems (SuDS), also called sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS).The term was coined in the UK to refer to sustainable urban drainage systems; in due course, the ‘urban’ emphasis has been eased with the emergence of an all-encompassing approach. The SUDS concept has been adopted in a number of forms internationally, using a variety of emerging technologies. Among these are the Australian Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) http://bit.ly/K5fj3a model, and Best Management Practice (BMP) or Low Impact Development (LID) http://bit.ly/JkYJdP in the US.

Understanding SUDS

The essential principle underpinning SUDS is deceptively simple: it replicates how the porous earth naturally absorbs rainwater, and so prevents or alleviates flooding. In our cities today, mass developments with vast acreages of sealed surfaces has meant that rainwater is trapped and gathers above the ground; this frequently results in sustained surface flooding as conventional drainage systems become overwhelmed.

SUDS systems don’t attempt to flush away surface water in the manner of traditional drainage systems. Instead, in the manner of natural rainwater absorption, they collect storm water at source; stores and cleans the surface water, before gradually releasing it back into the environment through a controlled process of attenuation.

The value of SUDS

The positive environmental impacts of SUDS include a marked reduction in the possibility of pollution – for example, from sewage overflow during flooding, protecting groundwater sources, ecosystems, and wildlife and their habitats. Authentic SUDS systems are innately sustainable and cost-effective in terms of their material structure, long-term capacity, management and maintenance; and requiring no energy input – although some varieties harness solar power.

The growing need for SUDS

The necessity for SUDS innovations is thrown into stark relief when it is considered that April 2012 saw the highest UK rainfall figures for the month of April in a century. Severe flooding in England during 2007 – the UK’s largest civil emergence since the second world war – led to the Pitt review (2008) http://bit.ly/IpZaVK.

Carlisle flooding 2005

Sir Michael Pitt’s finding is part of the basis for a new generation of legislation pertaining to surface water management. This includes the Flood and Water Management Act for England and Wales (2010) http://bit.ly/INxlDg, and the Flood Risk Management Scotland Act (2009) http://bit.ly/JHF6fk.

Further SUDS legislation is in development in the UK, to govern new build and retrospective surface water management; and to underpin emerging systems procedures, legal requirements, and industry standards in drainage infrastructure implementation.


ACO is Britain’s leading exponent of SUDS, and has pioneered an integrated proposition for surface water management with the ability to lead and facilitate the creation and implementation of emerging legislation on the issue. ACO’s products are reshaping how developers approach surface water management systems’ design in new building projects, while facilitating retrofitting for the alleviation of the dangers resulting from the inability of established systems to cope with environmental changes http://bit.ly/LvBVZB.

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