Innovation in stormwater management needed to combat climate change

It is clear that changes to management of urban stormwater drainage will be needed to avoid health and environmental damage from climate change.

Water resources will become increasingly "stressed" as weather patterns change. In particular, altered water flows from more frequent storms and floods in some areas, and prolonged drought in others, will change the seasonal mixing and turnover pattern in bodies of water.

The consequences, which are compounding, will give rise to changes to the quantity, quality and ecology of water environments, resulting in adverse human and ecosystem health impacts.

A key impact will be the destruction of aquatic habitats and the extinction of sensitive aquatic flora and fauna and their replacement with noxious and generally undesirable species.

In my view climate change needs to be viewed as undesirable, but also inevitable. This means it is necessary to look for opportunities in adversity and stormwater systems might be an example of this.

Commonly, stormwater runoff is the primary medium of transport of pollutants to water bodies. Increased rainfall intensities will result in greater ability to dislodge and transport pollutants deposited on surfaces.

Using only current stormwater systems, combined with continued urban growth and climate change, will result in stormwater runoff causing increasing environment damage to water bodies.

At the same time, urban areas will struggle to provide enough healthy water to support future population growth and storm runoff may be an increasingly important water source.

If local authorities capture more stormwater for reuse they can potentially address both problems simultaneously.

Firstly capturing stormwater for reuse before it reaches water bodies will help to reduce the volume of discharge of urban stormwater into the receiving waters.

Secondly, the stormwater being discharged will undergo a degree of treatment. Furthermore, the reuse of stormwater will help to overcome the water deficiencies increasingly being experienced in urban areas.

While most of the climate change debate has concentrated on sea level rises, rainfall patterns and temperature, water quality is also facing profound impacts.

Water quality is fundamental to human health and well-being and climate change will require greater investment in water systems to maintain current standards.

The seriousness of this threat stems from the fact that water is essential for human survival. From a water quantity perspective, climate change will have a critical impact on steam flow such as the increase or decrease in peak flow and the timing of the peak.

In current water deficient areas, the severity of water scarcity will be further worsened due to the greater withdrawal of water from existing sources during dry periods. We need to find creative ways to deal with these threats and produce positive results from adverse circumstances.


Professor Ashantha Goonetilleke is a multi-award-winning researcher, consultant and presenter with a passion for improving the conservation, management and quality of water.He is a Professor in Water/Environmental Engineering at Queensland University of Technology. He has an established track record for undertaking research in relation to the sustainability of the water environment and climate change adaptation.

To read his other world class publication visithere.This articlewas originally publishedhereby the author.