Urban design needed to protect our waterways

waterways urban designThe storms that have lashed Australia’s east coast over the past few weeks are not just a threat to lives and property, but also to our marine wildlife.

The increasing urbanisation of our coastlines, and proliferation of impervious surfaces, has meant that up to 80% of stormwater now runs rapidly into a dense underground network of drains.

These drains act like an expressway for pollution and debris in our cities, roads, gutters and gardens, sending a cocktail of contaminants directly into the aquatic ecosystems that lie at the end of the pipe.

Stormwater is a mixture of rain and any dissolved or solid pollutants carried along with it. The excess water flowing along streets and gutters picks up litter, oil and grease, and metals. Run-off from parks and gardens introduces fertilisers, pathogens, pesticides and soil.

In Sydney Harbour it has been estimated that more than two-thirds of the pollutants entering the waterway do so via stormwater drains, creating hotspots of pollution with concentrations 20 times higher than natural levels. More than 80% of the city’s catchment is covered by concrete, increasing the volumes of stormwater run-off.

When stormwater reaches a waterway it represents a significant ecological risk. Together with international colleagues, we have been investigating the impact of stormwater pollution on ecological communities large and small, including changes to the number of species, nutrient cycling, and the release of toxic compounds such as ammonia, nitrous oxide and hydrogen sulphide.

The solution to stormwater run-off is to build better: to design and construct cities to protect waterways such as rivers, manage stormwater and also make them liveable for people too. This approach is known as water-sensitive urban design.

One example is the large underground water tanks that collect stormwater to be reused for irrigation at Sydney’s Barangaroo Reserve. To read more click here.

The 9th International Urban Design Conference will be held at Hyatt Canberra 7th-8th November 2016 with optional tours available on Wednesday 9th November.

Registrations are now open. CLICK HERE to register for the Conference.

This years’ theme, Smart Cities for 21st Century Australia – How urban design innovation can change our cities”  will focus on an understanding of what makes a city ‘smart’ from a urban design perspective and how the built environment develops during the city planning process.

Authors or organisations interested in presenting at the 9th International Urban Design Conference are invited to submit an abstract. To submit an abstract CLICK HERE.

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