Water Sensitive Urban Design

Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) is a concept that’s appearing more and more in local government planning policies across Australia, and rightfully so. It’s a concept that Orterra have embraced for many years because it just makes sense, for the environment as well as for the individual projects we design and deliver.

Did you know that Biodiversity is one of our key values as an organisation? You can see all of our values and how we define them right here, but basically, our work has a focus on improving, rehabilitating and regenerating the biodiversity and the environment of our projects. Water Sensitive Urban Design, or WSUD, is the perfect example of how we bring this key value into our daily experience.

What is WSUD?

Water Sensitive Urban Design, at the crux of things, is about the role of sustainable water management in creating, sustaining and maintaining healthy, vibrant waterways. It’s a set of principles to align developers, local government and the community to commit to practices that allow greater liveability through design that is cognisant of the impact of water management on design. It’s taking into account the full water management system and the impact of this can be used to create spaces that people can, and want, to be in.

WSUD involves how well (or otherwise) the stormwater, water supply and sewerage management is integrated into design, as well as naturally occurring water management features. The flipside of WSUD, aka design that gives not a brass razoo to the concept of how to manage water systems isn’t pretty. Just ask any open water swimmer – they know after a decent rainfall there are beaches that are simply no-go zones. If the oceans aren’t safe for swimming, imagine what that impact is on marine life? When the impact of development (and construction) on the natural water cycle and on sites’ natural features isn’t taken into consideration, the result is spaces that are unbearably hot (to the point of inaccessible), where green life is almost non-existent.

Instead, WSUD is brought to life through an approach that focuses on integrating the urban water cycle; the manmade water, waste water and stormwater infrastructure within both the built and natural landscape. We do this through considered planning and design that embraces sustainability, environmental protection and with a focus on socio-cultural liveability.

Sure! But how?

Basically, it’s about creating spaces that are enjoyable and pleasing to be in as we work, live and play, while being water-efficient across a range of measures. It’s about:

  • Water conservation
  • Waterway protection
  • Stormwater runoff management; and
  • Flood management

As Landscape Architects, this means we take into consideration how to be water sensitive in every decision we make across the project lifecycle. So, what is the ‘design’ in WSUD? It’s where we take into account the whole of water cycle management as we delve into our urban planning and design process. We work on projects as large as a 20 hectare housing development complete with shopping centre as well as a backyard renovation, yet WSUD is central to how we design. This leads to designs that may include:

  • Constructed wetlands
  • Infiltration trenches
  • Porous ground covers and pavements
  • Systems that harvest stormwater and rainwater
  • Rain gardens and tree pits; and
  • Green roofs and green facades.

This means the end result protects existing water (creeks, rivers and ocean) and its quality, reuses water at the source – or as close to possible and has purposeful, intentional water use.

Photo by Tyler Butler on Unsplash

What is the benefit?

When we design in a way that is water sensitive we know we’re playing a part in a bigger picture than the immediate project. We know that our design:

  • Reduces the volume of stormwater hitting the aquatic and river environments, which improves their quality
  • Reduces our need to use valuable drinking quality water to keep green spaces exactly that, green!
  • Contributes towards mitigating floods through the interception of stormwater flows
  • Reduces the risk of urban heat islands
  • Improves the biodiversity of wetlands; and
  • Leads to better quality soil that’s permeable and holds moisture and nutrients.

Water Sensitive Urban Design doesn’t happen by accident, but, funnily enough, by design! To find out more about our work and how we incorporate our values, particularly biodiversity, please reach out!

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