LESS CONCRETE, BETTER RETENTION

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Modern water and architectural solutions (aka “blue-green infrastructure”) introduced on a large-city scale, but also in one’s own home garden, are the best way to prevent the loss of water from the environment. The Polish Waters organisation within the STOP DROUGHT! programme recommends different strategies which may improve the water balance both on a national scale and that of one’s own garden.

We live in cities full of concrete, park in concrete car parks, cobble-stone yards and terraces, and then … complain about drought or local flooding. However, the truth is that each effect has its cause and in order to change the situation we must change the way we think. Let’s imagine that water circulating in an ecosystem is like the blood in our body. When something disrupts its circulation, it weakens the functioning of the whole body. Fortunately, the blood circulation can be improved. It is similar with water – there are different ways to improve its circulation in the environment and retain it in places where it is most needed.

The domination of concrete and its consequences

Climate changes mean that more and more often we experience extreme weather conditions, such as droughts and smaller or greater flooding. However, we must remember that the climate has been changing because of human activities. We should be aware that both in urban and rural areas the density of development – not only residential but also commercial or industrial development – is increasing fast. Next to each new facility, a car park or yard is usually constructed. And, unfortunately, in the majority of cases, it is made of concrete, asphalt or paving stones. This phenomenon is called the domination of concrete (in Polish: betonoza). What is its impact on water circulation? Very large. The concrete-lined area of, for example, a car park or yard reduces the soil water retention capacity. During rain, the water – instead of soaking into the ground – just flows down, often into a drainage system or ditches which discharge into rivers. The paradox is that the domination of concrete contributes not only to drought, as so much water is “wasted” whereas it should soak into the ground, but also to flooding which appears as a result of heavy rainfall – especially torrential rain – when the stormwater drainage system cannot manage the sheer quantity of rainwater and it gushes out of manholes.

“Our towns and cities, roads, highways and express roads are covered with concrete. Water flows down from these concrete-lined areas into drainage systems, from drainage systems to rivers and then is carried by rivers unproductively to the sea, mainly the Baltic Sea. It is said that we retain only 6.5% of the total annual rainfall in Poland, whereas we should definitely retain more. Our assumption is to retain at least 15%.” says Przemysław Daca, President of the State Water Holding Polish Waters.

 Blue-green infrastructure

Excessive sealing of surfaces by covering them with concrete and asphalt means that in the race with nature people will be always the losers as we have a shortage, and then the next moment we have an excess of water. The solution is what is called the blue-green infrastructure. This catchy term includes natural retention reservoirs, properly designed parks, rain gardens, revitalised watercourses, permeable parking spaces, as well as various household solutions allowing what is called small retention. All these measures have one purpose: to plan people’s living space in such a way that uses the potential of green areas to a maximum extent and, due to this, to manage rainwater in the best way.

Sponge city

There are a number of environmentally-friendly pro-retention solutions improving the comfort of life in cities. Rain gardens located below gutters and supplied with rainwater, plant passages, flower meadows, green roofs, permeable pavements or rainwater tanks are all examples of the many ideas which can lead to cities having a better microclimate. We should also pay special attention to absorbent boxes that can be placed under car parks and large squares around supermarkets or production buildings. When it rains, these boxes absorb large quantities of water. This water is gradually released and remains in the ground for longer, which reduces the risk of drought and feeds the ground water. Additionally, such types of solution prevent flooding in the case of torrential rain. Many Polish cities have already put these ideas into practice.

More about the green infrastructure for cities at: https://www.wody.gov.pl/mala-retencja/blekitno-zielona-infrastruktura

Household retention

While decisions regarding blue-green solutions for cities, which contribute to the retention of rainwater, are taken by teams of people, in the case of private houses it to a large extent lies with us what we do with rainwater. What can we do? Instead of cobble-stoning the yard, it is better to choose permeable elements, which over time overgrow with grass and absorb rainwater. A very good material for hardening garden paths and driveways is crushed stone. This material allows rainwater to gradually soak into the soil as well as slowing down its evaporation when it is hot. Since we have already mentioned gardens: instead of an ideally mown lawn, it is worth choosing a flower meadow. It does not require regular and time-consuming care (it is mown only twice a year!) and, instead of absorbing water it retains moisture in the soil. The collection of rainwater, such as in special water tanks or ponds, is also worth considering. Such water may be later successfully used for watering the garden or supplying it directly if we decide to create a rain garden.12

More information about household retention at: https://www.gov.pl/web/klimat/nowy-program-moja-woda–100-milionow-zlotych-na-20-tysiecy-przydomowych-retencji

Rain means profit, and profit means tax

The effective management of water should consist in guaranteeing the necessary quantity of surface water and groundwater resources of appropriate quality, and minimising all threats that would be connected with their shortage or excess (such as droughts or floods). Therefore, in 2018 the new Water Law Act introduced a rain tax, which encouraged both authorities’ representatives and entrepreneurs to manage water resources in a more efficient manner. Currently, this tax applies to owners of large areas, of 3.5 thousand square metres or more, that “excluded from the biologically active surface” 70% of its area. This means that if somebody constructs a large store surrounded by a paved car park or driveway, they pay the rain tax. Currently, works are pending on amendments to the regulations. The new draft act includes the proposals of five ministries cooperating in the development of the regulations: Ministry of Maritime Economy and Inland Navigation, Ministry of Climate, Ministry of Development, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and Ministry of Environment.

“It is an initial draft act which has not yet been approved by the government and has not been introduced in Parliament. We still do not fully know the final text of these legal regulations. We, as Polish Waters, are directly interested as the significant part of these regulations will apply to our activities. We try to analyse them on an ongoing basis, also in terms of their impact on Polish Waters activities and the economy,” says Przemysław Daca, President of Polish Waters. According to the new regulations, owners of smaller plots of land with an area of at least 600 square metres, 50% of which is developed, would be obliged to pay the “rain tax”. In the case of an owner of a house, this fee could apply to, for example, a hardened yard. According to the initial calculations, it would mean that the rain tax would be paid by twenty times more households than now. It may be also paid by small transport companies, repair workshops, diagnostic centres, regional warehouses – in short, companies which earlier due to their sizes and area of their premises were not subject to the old tax. The draft act on investments in the scope of drought effect counteracting is at the stage of inter-ministerial and social consultations, but already now one thing is worth emphasising: if someone takes appropriate care of rainwater on their premises then – in the case of entry into force of the new regulations – they will pay less. The amount of the tax will depend on how much rainwater is retained (e.g. in rainwater tanks).
“For example, if an owner of a plot of land of approx. 1 thousand square metres, 51% of which is developed, installs a rain barrel, they will pay only PLN 25 per year. If they fail to do this, they would have to pay PLN 255,” says Przemysław Daca, President of Polish Waters. Experts underline that the new regulations are aimed at mobilising people to implement measures related to the retention of water within their own properties. “The main purpose of the proposed regulations is to introduce a package of solutions which will facilitate the retention of water and improve the availability of water resources in Poland in order to mitigate the negative effects of increasingly longer periods of drought,” sums up Przemysław Daca, President of Polish Waters.

Text: Jowita Hakobert

Planned package of measures aimed at the retention and collection of water

Climate change and the intensity and frequency of droughts resulting from it, but also the re-distribution of precipitation, mean that it is necessary to take more efficient and effective measures connected with sustainable water management and adaptation to climate change. The package of measures aimed at the retention and collection of water was developed by five ministries, i.e. Ministry of Maritime Economy and Inland Navigation, Ministry of Development, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Climate.

The proposed solutions will mean that the effects of droughts in Poland will be less felt by residents of urban and rural areas. The target act will support the development of so-called blue-green infrastructure and retention systems using solutions based on nature as well as the removal of excess concrete from cities and towns. Moreover, measures to increase the retention will improve the level of safety through the effective prevention of the smaller and greater flooding resulting from heavy rainfalls. The amount of water used for irrigation in agriculture and in households will increase. The new regulations facilitate retention in the National Forests. They will also concern the transfer of land for afforestation and the increase in forest retention. Furthermore, the draft act provides for the simplification of procedures, in order to speed the implementation of investments aimed at the increase of the retention level in Poland, which currently is below the European average.

One of the solutions most often discussed recently is the draft amendment to the regulations regarding the tax for lost retention, commonly referred to as the “rain tax”, although the term “tax on the domination of concrete” would be more precise. The overall objective of the act is to stimulate owners and entities to take measures aimed at retaining rainwater within their own property. The purpose of the currently emphasised proposal to extend the circle of entities subject to the tax and to increase this tax is not directly fiscal, i.e. to collect a tax. The purpose is to retain rainwater, and the tax is to stimulate it.

The project assumes the simplification of investment procedures, due to which tasks aimed at the increase of the retention level in Poland will be implemented faster.

The act will support the development of so-called blue-green infrastructure and retention systems using solutions based on nature as well as the removal of excess concrete from cities and towns. Moreover, measures to increase the retention will improve the level of safety through the effective prevention of smaller and greater flooding resulting from torrential rainfalls.

The amount of water used for irrigation in agriculture and in households will increase. The proposed amendments are to strengthen the maintenance system of irrigation devices. The new regulations facilitate the retention in National Forests. It will also concern the transfer of land for afforestation and the increase in forest retention.

On 17 August, the public consultations and inter-ministry arrangements of the draft act on investments in the scope of drought effect counteracting were commenced. The draft contains a package of measures which will facilitate water retention and improve the availability of water resources in Poland. Their purpose is to mitigate the negative effects of increasingly longer periods of drought.

The solutions planned in the act fit the global trends in the approach to rainwater, i.e. preventing it from flowing into sewage systems. The proposals to a large extent refer to Danish, German and Dutch solutions. This initiative will be, in a natural way, of greater importance in medium and larger cities with developed systems of stormwater drainage.26