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Technical services and consulting solutions for clients in the property, energy, transport, water, resources, defence and government sectors.

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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.

08 December 2020 | 4 min read
Alan Curran Brendan Lyons
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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.

Table of the 4 E's to conserve water which include economic, education, enforcement, encouragement and engineering solutions
5 E’s to Conserve Water
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
Aerial shot of the Dungarvan landfill site
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.