Stormwater flooding is an issue that effects all of us. Excess water caused by intense rainstorms doesn't just flood the homes, lives and businesses that we see all too frequently on the television news. On its journey over roads and pavements, it can pick up pollutants from traffic, industry and other sources of diffuse pollution, transporting them into receiving waters. It carries metals, oils, and other hazardous substances and often results in reducing the quality of rivers and streams that may be drinking water in future.
At Middlesex, the research focus is on looking at ways of dealing with such diffuse pollution in urban water systems, particularly using Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS).
Dr Lian Lundy explains: "Middlesex's main strength in SUDS is looking at the behaviour of urban pollutants and their removal using these systems. As water continually cycles through our environment, whatever pollutants go in you need to take out again so that you can reuse the water. Our expertise is in green infrastructure, the ability of natural systems like ponds, reed beds and swales (grassy ditches) to remove pollutants from runoff. There can be lots of other benefits associated with green infrastructure – ponds can also provide wildlife habitats and amenities like boating or just recreational opportunities for sitting next to water eating lunch. Vegetation in urban areas can reduce the ambient air temperature, it can lock up carbon and reduce flood volumes, a range of goods known as ecosystem services. Understanding how we preserve the delivery of ecosystem services is a very big policy priority at the moment."
The UK government has committed to underpinning all its policy development with an ecosystem services approach, looking at benefits provided by nature – food, fuel, clean water, clean air. Like other countries, it must constantly be looking at ways to implement the EU Water Framework Directive which became part of UK law in December 2003 and provides an opportunity to plan and deliver a better water environment.
In line with the Directive, the Scottish government commissioned a team via the Centre of Expertise for Waters (CREW) including researchers from Middlesex to look at the positives and negatives of a wide range of systems that deal with urban diffuse pollution.
"The main impact of our work in the short term is meeting with the policy makers, strengthening relationships, finding out what they need and the form they need it in to help them develop policies," says Lundy.
"In the long term, stormwater flooding could be dramatically reduced and water quality could be improved as a direct result of our research."