It is very saddening and shocking to see that 11 people have been victims (so far) of the tragic flash flood event on the 30th March 2013 in Mauritius. My thoughts are with the families who lost their dear ones and those who have lost their property and belongings during this event.
I am not an expert in drainage system design or flood risk management, however I would like to share some information that I have gathered during my career, regarding reduction of flooding risk through the implementation of SUDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems). I am providing the information below, in the hope that the engineers/designers who will review the drainage system in Mauritius after this terrible event, might take SUDS into consideration.
All it takes for flooding to become a problem is for 40% of vegetated area to be cleared and replaced by impervious surfaces such as impermeable concrete. The amount of surface water runoff will then double and flow twice as fast. Extreme rainfall events can cause hundreds of mm of rainwater to fall within a few hours – this amount of water flowing at high speed on impervious concrete areas will certainly overload drainage systems, which cannot dispose of the water as quickly as they are receiving it.
There are several ways of managing stormwater. The more traditional way is to divert water runoff from drains into rivers (“rapid conveyance” approach). However, the water runoff is sometimes so rapid that the rivers just cannot cope with the sudden deluge, leading to flooding downstream. When drains and rivers are blocked by debris, the water flow is impeded, worsening the flooding event.
Another way of managing rainwater runoff is to use the “control at source” concept. This means increasing the time that the water takes to reach streams by controlling it at source. This is a totally different approach from the rapid conveyance method. Water runoff is first captured and then gradually released or allowed to infiltrate the soil. Therefore, instead of a sudden, excessive water flow to areas downstream, the water flow is mitigated and reduced, making it more likely for drains and streams to be able to cope with it.However this requires that the water runoff from the site must be similar to or less than levels before land-clearing took place. This means that developers should be responsible for limiting the rainwater discharges due to their construction when a vegetated site is changed into an artificial impervious one. Instead of merely building drains to cater channeling of rainwater away from their development site, they should contain the water instead and release it gradually or allow it to seep into the soil. We should not work against nature, but with it. We should try to mimick nature’s natural hydrological cycle through a combination of infiltration, storage and delayed stormwater flow. The approach to replicate natural drainage systems is termed the SUDS (sustainable urban drainage systems) approach, sometimes termed “sustainable drainage systems” as they are not restricted to urban areas only. SuDS have a low environmental impact by managing water runoff through collection, storage, and natural cleaning before it is allowed to be released slowly back into water courses (drains and rivers). Usually SuDS constitute a combination of water retention ponds, wetlands, underground storage tanks, infiltration, permeable surfaces, swales, and filter drains with the best combination of structures and techniques being specific to the site in question.
The way we manage rainwater runoff should be reviewed and alternative ways of managing stormwater could be explored and evaluated, as well as the establishment of by-laws to guide the implementation of more sustainable and natural stormwater management practices, replicating natural attenuation, infiltration and drainage, rather than relying solely on concrete-lined drains. The benefits of both water storage and infiltration strategies extend beyond that of controlling water runoff. They also improve water quality, encourage bio-diversity, add amenity value and help us adapt to and mitigate the negative impacts of climate change.