Water at the core of Sustainability

We cannot undersell the importance of water management in sustainable development. In this collaborative article, Alan Curran, Brendan Lyons and Lara Nagle discuss how we can manage our water resources to ensure a sustainable future.

Water is at the core of sustainable development and is critical for socio-economic development, healthy ecosystems and for human survival itself. Water is also at the heart of adaptation to climate change, serving as the crucial link between the climate system, human society and the environment. Today poor planning coupled with insufficient maintenance & capital replacement has left us with a legacy of poor construction and high leakage levels. All these issues must be addressed urgently before we can even begin the discussion of a fully sustainable future. Initiatives such as the Water Framework Directive are defining parameters for sustainable water management. All water bodies should have achieved a ‘good’ or higher status by 2027; this will result in good ecology both in terms of quantity and quality.

In order to truly achieve a sustainable future we need to implement sustainable planning and energy efficient design throughout any project. This will allow us to successfully manage demand and optimise networks resulting in efficient water use. Three areas which are vital in the fight for sustainability are water conservation, sustainable drainage and nature based solutions.

Water conservation

We are currently seeing a considerable strain being placed on our water resources with a quite serious imbalance in terms of supply vs demand. This has been greatly caused by urbanisation, climate change and poor water management. It's imperative that we control and manage our water consumption to meet the water supply objective: to provide sufficient quantity of potable water to where it is needed to support life and economic activity. Water companies today are the largest energy users, consuming vast amounts of energy through pumping and treating. However, careful attention during the planning and design of plants could amount to significant carbon savings - reducing leakages reduces the need for pumping and treatment which means less carbon. Households too are consuming vast amounts of energy through water use with 25-28% of household energy bills and carbon emissions coming from heating water.

It's clear that there are many advantages of water conservation, both economic and environmental. The true goal is to minimise loss or waste, care for and protect water resources and the efficient and effective use of water. If we can utilise the 5 E’s of water conservation we can go a long way to achieving true sustainability

5 Es.jpg

5 E’s to Conserve Water

Sustainable drainage

As an engineering solution, reuse has come to the forefront of sustainable infrastructure. Drainage systems can contribute to sustainable development and improve the places and spaces where we live, work and play by balancing the different opportunities and challenges that influence urban design and the development of communities. Approaches to manage surface water that take account of water quantity (flooding), water quality (pollution) biodiversity (wildlife and plants) and amenity are collectively referred to as Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS). SuDS are drainage systems that are considered to be environmentally beneficial, causing minimal or no long-term detrimental damage. They are often regarded as a sequence of management practices, control structures and strategies designed to efficiently and sustainably drain surface water, while minimising pollution and managing the impact on water quality of local water bodies.

The overarching principles of SuDS design is that surface water runoff should be managed for maximum benefit. Rainwater harvesting - where Rainwater runoff is collected in an underground tank and pumped to roof space to be reused for toilet flushing - has become widely utilised in school and public projects. Such systems include 5 to 7 days storage and any overflow goes directly to the main drainage system. This type of innovative SuDS implementation mimics natural drainage processes, reducing the effect on the quality and quantity of runoff from developments and provides amenity and biodiversity benefits.

Galway SuDS.jpg

Galway roof runoff

Nature based solutions

The ‘Integrated Constructed Wetland’ (ICW) concept provides an alternative strategy to conventional practice. The concept has been applied for more than 20 years delivering a successful model of social, economic and environmental coherence (the three pillars of sustainable development). The ICW concept strives to deliver this as comprehensively as possible for a wide range of sources of polluted waters. An ICW is an engineered structure, rather like a pond, that harnesses natural ecological processes for the breakdown of the organic matter in wastewater. They contain gravels and sands which are usually planted with either the common river reed or Reed Mace.

ICWs perform three basic functions:

  • Dewater the sludge through evaporation.
  • Transform sludge into mineral and humus components through transpiration through the plant's roots, stem and leaves.
  • Store sludge for a number of years.

They are generally designed to detain the wastewater for a period of 5–7 days and quality of treated effluent improved with increased residence time.

ICWs provide a number of benefits:

  • Low construction and running costs
    • Gravity driven systems don’t require any energy input
    • Operational and maintenance costs are low and can be carried out by anyone with a modicum of gardening skills and common sense
    • No sludge transportation
    • Easy management
  • Potential for efficient removal of a wide range of pollutants
  • Resilient to wastewater overloading and hydraulic shock loading
  • Secondary benefits in terms of potential wildlife habitat enhancement
  • May be used in conjunction with old or overloaded systems to achieve high discharge standards

Case Study: Dungarvan Landfill

Dungarvan Landfill commenced operation in 1968 and was based on the ‘dilute and disperse’ principle whereby the leachate was released into the surrounding environment. The facility closed in 2004 with little revenue available for the long-term aftercare. When developing the closure plan, Waterford County Council wanted to reduce operational costs associated with removal of leachate by road tanker for treatment off-site.

We developed an Integrated Constructed Wetland to manage leachate on site. This represents a low-carbon solution with positive impacts on local biodiversity. As leachate passes through the system, contaminants are naturally treated, protecting water quality in the nearby River Colligan. 

The operation of the ICW is more environmentally friendly and energy efficient than conventional treatment or tankering of leachate, and operational requirements are reduced.

Dungarvan landfill ICW.jpg

Dungarvan Landfill ICW

Water is a finite and irreplaceable resource that is fundamental to human well-being; it's only renewable if well managed. Water can pose a serious challenge to sustainable development but managed efficiently and equitably it can play a key enabling role in strengthening the resilience of social, economic and environmental systems in the light of rapid and unpredictable changes.

Related services

Load more services »

Get in touch

Your contact information:

All fields are mandatory *

Get in touch

Your contact information:

All fields are mandatory *