Flood protection has become national headlines for good reason, so we need to take a long, hard look at the options available

Andrew Kinsey

The recent heavy rain and flooding that has been experienced across the UK has certainly put the issue of water firmly on the map. January’s UK rainfall led to the wettest winter month since records began in 1767. However, you don’t have to cast your mind back very far to remember that there have also been some serious water shortages and drought conditions in the not so distant past as well. As recently as 2012, we had water restrictions and hosepipe bans, with UK groundwater being at some of its lowest levels since the long, hot summer of 1976.

Whatever the weather, it seems that we are experiencing more and more extreme conditions, which may be attributable, at least partially, to human activity and our influence on the environment. As a result, this extreme weather has become headline news and has kick-started a national debate around how we manage water and what more we can do. For example, should we be building on flood plains at all? And how should we be designing or adapting our buildings and infrastructure to be more resilient in coping with flooding? Questions that we must consider in order to be better prepared in the future.

Despite the abundance of water at the moment, as the population grows it’s likely we’ll experience serious water stress. This will particularly effect areas such as London and south-east England, where much of our water supply comes from groundwater, which recharges more slowly and, in comparison to surface water, is more difficult to clean up if it gets contaminated.

If it’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, or not clean enough, water is certainly a key risk to almost any business

If it’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, or not clean enough, water is certainly a key risk to almost any business. There are measureable social, environmental and economic impacts that mean this is a fundamental issue we must all address if we are to be more sustainable.

At Mace, we’ve acknowledged this by making water one of our main business-critical issues and we’ve set targets to reduce our consumption over the next few years. In addition to this, most of our projects improve on water efficiency through the use of green building ratings such as BREEAM and Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED).

We’ve recently been reviewing our data on this for our next annual report. One of our key successes has come from maintaining a consistent approach to monitoring. This sounds quite simple, but it has allowed us to identify and fix some large leaks which were previously undiscovered.

Another interesting aspect of data collection is in people’s reactions to the data. There’s a real mix of those who are galvanised to take action when faced with large numbers, and those who can’t really engage with the monitoring. With other environmental issues, such as the amount of waste we produce or the carbon emissions we create, the impacts seem greater and more tangible. The fact that we don’t feel short of water right now, and that comparatively it doesn’t seem to be so costly, means some may feel differently about it or less inclined to see it as a big issue.

To continue to improve, a key challenge for us all is to make water more interesting and engaging, not just when it’s in the news!

Andrew Kinsey is an operations director and head of sustainability for construction at Mace