Monday, 10 March 2014

Capturing the Potential of Stormwater

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“Capturing the potential of stormwater by resolving the responsibilities and accountabilities of government agencies, water utilities and local government for stormwater is essential “ 

(Water Services Association of Australia, Vision and Outcomes to 2030)

Management of the urban water cycle in Australia has changed significantly over the past few decades.  As we lived through a series of droughts and floods, we adapted our water systems to cope with our ever changing environment.  Australia’s variable climate means that droughts and floods are inevitable – we just don’t know when they will next occur, or how severe they will be.  Today, we know much more about our water cycle than ever before and we have markedly improved our knowledge about water system management. 

The water cycle includes all forms of water - recycled water, rainwater, stormwater, wastewater, groundwater, potable water and water contained in our rivers and bays. The notion of the whole-of-water-cycle management and planning (also known as Integrated Water Cycle Management  IWCM) has become an accepted fact and the common practice amongst water experts and within the various levels of government and general public.

Living in the dry country we need to value and use the rain that falls on our land and the stormwater runoff generated by that rainfall.

Stormwater management philosophy in most developed countries has evolved over the last decades from the conventional, but still important, flood mitigation paradigm, to the current runoff quality control approach.  It is   now   progressing towards the harvesting and reuse concept whilst retaining the previous two targets.

Urban Stormwater Harvesting (SWH) is one of the essential components of Integrated Water Cycle Management (IWCM) that offers multiple solutions to urban water systems such as mains water  demand  reduction,  water  quality  improvement  and  in many cases  creek  ecosystem health  protection. A number of SWH projects have been implemented in Australia to date and the number of SWH schemes is expected to grow with wider uptake of the IWCM encouraged by the State’s and Federal Government.

In this paper the author presents the key observations gained through his involvement in the planning, design, construction and operation of the stormwater harvesting schemes and the practitioner’s view on some of the key issues that need to be addressed.

Urban Stormwater Harvesting and its Major Components

Urban Stormwater Harvesting can be defined as the collection, treatment, storage and use of stormwater run-off from urban areas.

Stormwater harvesting requires a number of physical facilities. These include infrastructure  for  capture,  storage,  appropriate  treatment,  maintenance  and  supply  to end  users  in  cost  effective  ways.  Sufficient  runoff  must  be  available  and  sufficient space  be  available  to  permit  storage  or  retention,  depending  on  whether  the  aim  is water  supply  or  to  manage  stormwater  quantity  and  quality. 

Typical urban stormwater harvesting schemes include all or a combination of the following components (Figure 1):
  1.  Catchment providing the run off volume
  2. Diversion structure (DS)
  3. Primary screening device
  4. Buffer storage
  5. Transfer facilities from buffer storage (e.g. pump and rising main)
  6. Treatment facilities
  7.  Transfer facilities to the clear water storage
  8. Clear water storage
  9. Distribution pumps
  10. Disinfection  and supply rising main
  11. End use

Stormwater Harvesting System Components
Typical mode of operation for stormwater harvesting scheme (Figure 1):

a. Designated volume of run off from the catchment (1) is diverted by the diversion structure (2) installed on the existing drainage system

b. The diverted run off is screened to remove gross pollutants and coarse sediment (3)
c. Screened run off gravitates into the buffer storage (4); the aim of the buffer storage is to level out the variance in the incoming flows and optimize the operational parameters of the pump that supplies water to the treatment component
d. Water from the buffer tank is transferred/pumped (5) into the treatment component e.g. wetland/bio retention (6) were the required quality of product water is achieved
e. Treated water is transferred to the clear water storage typically via a pump (7)
f. The treated water is stored in the Clear Water storage (8) for intended use; in many of the schemes involving irrigational use of product water a relatively large storage is required due to the temporal difference between the rainfall (collection) and irrigation (usage)
g. Product water is distributed to the end users via a system of pump(s) and lilac pipes (9)
h. Distribution process typically includes the disinfection of product water (10) e.g. with the on line UV system
i. Fit for purpose water is delivered to the end users (11)
(Note: IVWater is formerly known as IourivWater Solutions)

Planning, Design, Construction and Operational Considerations

While it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the particular detail of stormwater harvesting schemes, a few general comments based on practical experience should prove useful for stakeholders contemplating a stormwater harvesting scheme.

The tasks/disciplines required for the successful delivery of a stormwater harvesting scheme are diverse and would typically include the following:

1.0 Environmental Considerations

  • Flora & Fauna
  • Heritage & Cultural
  • LCA (Land Capability assessment)
  • Environmental Risks Assessment 

2.0 Planning/Approvals

  • Statutory & land acquisition, planning zone, dam permit 
  • Diversion and water use licenses from water authorities 
  • Other utilities (e.g. electricity, communication )

3.0 Public Consultation

4.0 Site Investigations

  • Geotechnical
  • Services and Surveying
  • Water quality sampling and flow monitoring
  • Others 

5.0 Detail Design of Stormwater harvesting scheme

Typical Components:

  • Diversion works incl. primary screens
  • Raw water transfer infrastructure
  • In line detention 
  • Raw water storage (open dam or underground tanks)
  • Water treatment 
  • Clear water storage
  • Distribution infrastructure

Tasks/Disciplines involved:

  • Hydraulics design (diversion rates, detention and storage volumes, intake/outlet structures, pipes, pumps)
  • Mechanical (pipes, pumps, tanks)
  • Structural engineering (soil mechanics/retaining structures, dams, concrete structures, pits, pump stations)
  • Civil structures (open storages, access roads, drainage, waste disposal)
  • Electrical engineering (extension of services, switchboards)
  • Process treatment part 1 – natural systems (e.g. wetlands, bio filtration)
  • Process treatment part 2 - conventional (e.g. media filtration, UV)
  • Instrumentation & Controls (e.g. SCADA)

6.0 Landscape architecture (some projects)

7.0 Irrigation design (some projects)

8.0 Estimation of Construction Costs/QS

9.0 Project management, reporting and QA

10.0 Construction Management

11.0 Commissioning and scheme validation

12.0 Post Commissioning scheme performance assessment, audit and reporting

13.0 Operation & Maintenance

Development of Stormwater Harvesting Practice

The robust engineering basis for the planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance of urban stormwater harvesting is yet to be developed. This is because it is a relatively new engineering concept, despite being used in some form or another in various places around the world for centuries.

In the absence of the established design basis for stormwater harvesting – designers of these schemes frequently resort to the approaches borrowed from the more traditional disciplines such as municipal drainage and water sensitive urban design (WSUD). A number of leading Australian stormwater professional have commented on this issue e.g. Hatt, Deletic, Fletcher wrote in their article ‘Integrated treatment and recycling of stormwater: a review of Australian practice’ Journal of Environmental Management, vol.79, issue 1, April 2006:

“Existing stormwater recycling practice is far ahead of research, in that there are no technologies designed specifically for stormwater recycling. Instead, technologies designed for general stormwater pollution control are frequently utilized, which do not guarantee the necessary reliability of treatment. Performance modelling for evaluation purposes also needs further research, so that industry can objectively assess alternative approaches. “

However, as the practice of stormwater harvesting is continued and more projects are commissioned in the years to come, the design paradigm for stormwater harvesting should be further developed and validated.

Stormwater Harvesting Guidelines

One of the major barriers to the wider uptake of SWH particularly by Local Government is the absence of comprehensive SWH guidelines. Such a guideline would allow the proponents of the schemes (Councils, regulators, consultants, contractors and other stakeholders’ groups) to have a uniform reference document outlining current best practice including legislative framework, design / functionality, construction, operation and maintenance.

This document, once developed could offer comprehensive guidelines for implementation of storm water harvesting schemes in Australia as part of an Integrated Water Cycle Management (IWCM) approach, based on current legislation, best available engineering science and practical lessons learnt during planning, design, construction and operation of existing SWH schemes.

The SWH Guidelines will provide the clear path for implementation of the best practice stormwater management related to SWH and re-use in Australia, contributing to:

  • better management of stormwater (balancing the harvesting to maximum aquatic and terrestrial benefits)
  • improved water quantity and quality management
  • reduced local flooding
  • maximising the sustainable utilization of stormwater as a resource
  • greater uptake of stormwater harvesting 
  • improved green space in urban areas contributing to livability
  • improve allocation and harvesting of stormwater and integration with water sensitive urban design
  • better landscapes and parkland managed with available stormwater
  • informed strategic directions and policies for stormwater management and integrated water management across communities, councils and catchments

By providing the knowledge and confidence to implement sustainable well designed SWH projects the Guidelines will set the bench-mark for best practice SWH and provide the know-how to achieve it, overcoming many concerns and lack of knowledge currently associated with stormwater harvesting. The SWH guidelines will also assist in de-mystifying operational concerns and build confidence in managing "Harvesting Stormwater".

The development of SWH Guidelines is a complex and multidiscipline project requiring good coordination, adequate resources, extensive stakeholder’s consultation and sufficient time and funding.

The resultant document should be based on “four pillar” (Figure 2):
  1. Current regulation & legislation
  2. Best engineering practice
  3. Consideration of operation & maintenance issues
  4. Case studies and practical examples

Stormwater Harvesting Guidelines

Stormwater Harvesting Guidelines Development – Major Components (Figure 2)

More detail flowchart on topics and structure of the guidelines is presented in Figure 3:

Stormwater Harvesting Guidelines Topics

Stormwater Harvesting Guidelines – Detailed Components (Figure 3)

Also, an indicative Table of Contents (TOC) for the SWH Guidelines is presented in Table 1:

Purpose and aim of guideline
Overview structure/outline
 Integration with other relevant guidelines
Planning your SWH project
 Planning and Regulations
Relevant legislation
 Approvals and Licencing
 Drivers & objectives
 Risk based analysis of SWH project
Assessment framework (AGWR)
Assessment tools
Risk Management Plan (RMP)
 Demands, Supplies and Water balance
 Water balance approach & major principles
 Water balance tools & software
Selection of sites
 Locating and ranking suitable SWH sites in urban area
 Assessment tools (GIS based etc.)
 Options Assessment
Design of SWH project
Design basis &  functionality
Major components and functions
Rainfall and stormwater flow modelling
Selection of Rainfall years for modelling
 Modelling tools
Balancing Demands and Supplies
 Downstream impacts from harvesting
Treatment train for SWH
Water quality objectives
GPT and pre- screening
Secondary Treatment
Bio - filtration & wetlands
Engineered solutions (media filtration etc.)
Storage of water
Balance storage or raw water storage
Product water storage
Aquifer Storage and Recovery
Other (tanks etc.)
Distribution to end users
Associated Infrastructure
Gravity pipework
 Rising mains
Controls & Electrical Equipment
Documentation of the Design solution
Construction of SWH project
Selection of project delivery mechanism
Principle contractor (traditional)
Design & Construct
Design, Construct & Operate
Performance guarantee & liabilities
Assets ownership
Planning and timelines
On-site work
Commissioning and proof of performance
Operations & Maintenance
Assets life
Maintenance requirements
Monitoring requirements
Risk Management Plan Audit and Review
Economics of SWH project
General principles
Estimation of costs for capital works
Estimation of running costs
Life expectancy & Net Present Value of assets
Non tangible values (e.g. green infrastructure)
TBL analyses
Life cycle costs
Carbon sensitivity
Environmental impacts
Design Tables & References
Decision Support Tools
Case Studies

Indicative Table of Contents for Stormwater Harvesting Guidelines document (Table 1)

Performance Assessment for Stormwater Treatment Devices

Selecting the right treatment train to meet the water quality objectives is essential for the successful and sustainable operation of SWH systems.]

At present, there are no standard methods or guidelines for the testing, validation and performance assessment of stormwater treatment devices in Australia. The wider uptake of IWCM and WSUD and growing number of stormwater treatment devices pose a need for the consistent and verifiable performance database to inform the fair and technically robust assessment and selection processes for treatment of stormwater. As the market for stormwater treatment devices’ expands - the lack of published data on their performance becomes more apparent (Victorian Stormwater Committee 1999), while detailed field monitoring is also very scarce (Wong et al. 2000). The combination of a large number of devices, a lack of reporting protocols and standard methods and only a small number of detailed monitoring studies has resulted in a large uncertainty in stormwater treatment devices selection. Local government, which is largely responsible for the implementation and management of stormwater infrastructure in Australia, is dependent on in-house expertise and manufacturer’s advice in selecting appropriate stormwater treatment strategies. 

Independent discussions with local government, water authorities and stormwater industry professionals have revealed interest in the documentation and development of guidelines and frameworks to assist in the system design, product selection and evaluation to ensure adequate stormwater treatment and management.

Development of the protocols on the performance assessment for stormwater treatment devices will greatly 
assist in the adoption and utilization of Integrated Water Cycle Management (IWCM) approach in Australian towns and cities via the:

  • Increased certainty in the performance of stormwater treatment devices and resultant water quality delivered by IWCM projects
  • Consistent and structured approach to the selection of stormwater treatment devices with the direct benefit to the proponents (e.g. councils/developers), designers, asset owners and other stakeholders of a stormwater projects
  • Sharing the legacy of knowledge in stormwater treatment with the industry

In recognition of this industry need a number of research projects have been commissioned by various organizations with a view to assess the options available for independent verification of stormwater treatment devices in Australia, both at the state and federal level.

In this article I’d like to acknowledge the initiatives and support of Melbourne Water Corporation (MWC) and Stormwater Australia (SIA) and their respective work in this area that resulted in two reports produced and now displayed for public consultation via the SIA website, namely:

Practitioner View

Practicing in the area of integrated water cycle management and seeing through the delivery of both waste water and stormwater projects I have noticed some significant differences between those two groups affecting the choice of its delivery mechanism, namely:

  • Stricter and more defined regulations in the wastewater market including treatment standards, roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders, approval processes etc.
  • Wider adoption of the Design and Construct and Design, Built and Operate contract types as a waste water project delivery mechanism, generally with the Performance Guarantee provided by the Contractor
  • Established practice of performance validation and verification in the waste water market

Given the current interest in the uptake of stormwater as a resource (stormwater harvesting) and the on-going commitment to control and treat the run off prior to its discharge into the natural environment by application of WSUD – the Australian stormwater market is likely to grow in the years to come.

The pace that the stormwater market in Australia grows will, to a large degree, depend on the certainty that it can offer to the public, the clients and the government in delivering the stated objectives. Which requires, amongst other things, the clear path on how to achieve the stated objectives (i.e. Stormwater Harvesting Guidelines) and the means to verify that it actually works (i.e. validation and verification protocols). 

The increased certainty in the requirements for and the performance of the stormwater treatment components delivered by these guidelines and protocols should allow the market to offer/request a guarantee of performance. This guarantee should open more opportunities for funding, delivery, operation and maintenance of stormwater projects, leading to the greater uptake of stormwater treatment and utilization as a resource. 


Melbourne Water Corporation

Stormwater Australia (SIA)

CSIRO Land and Water

Institute of Public Works Engineering (IPWEA) VIC

Claudio Cullino, MECC Consulting Pty Ltd

Dr Daryl Stevens, Atura Pty Ltd


Michelle Philp, Joseph McMahon, Sonja Heyenga, Oswald Marinoni, Graham Jenkins, Shiroma Maheepala, Margaret Greenway – “Review of Stormwater Harvesting Practices” CSIRO Publishing, 2008

Hatt B.E., Deletic A., Fletcher T.D. - ‘Integrated treatment and recycling of stormwater: a review of Australian practice’ article published in the Journal of Environmental Management, vol.79, issue 1, April 2006”

“ Institutional and Regulatory Models for Integrated Urban Water Cycle Management - Issues and Scoping Paper” Australian Government, National Water Commission, February 2007

I.Brodie “Stormwater Harvesting and Water Sensitive Urban Design Detention: A Compatibility Analysis” 12nd International Conference on Urban Drainage, Porto Alegre/Brazil, 10-15 September 2011


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