Posted by: Lee Collier, Technical Director

Water use has been growing globally, at more than twice the rate of the population increase in the last century, and an increasing number of regions are reaching the limit at which water services can be sustainably delivered, especially in arid regions (United Nations, 2018). We all have a responsibility to mitigate the impacts of climate change, and sustainable water management is becoming a more prominent requirement in developments and redevelopments in all sectors, including sport.

Looking at stadia specifically, development plans often have a primary focus on matchday and fan experience. Whilst commercially this is of paramount importance, increasing attention is being placed on other areas such as inclusive community use within stadium precincts, and environmental sustainability of that landscape which incorporates holistic water management. As water becomes increasingly scarce, the cost of its use will increase, as will the cost of discharge. This makes effective water management a commercial priority as well as a moral obligation.

As design professionals, can we push harder for change? Steer stakeholders away from traditional stadium development objectives and look at solutions bespoke to each stadia’s environment. Taking a holistic approach to water management that accounts for the location’s climate – prioritising irrigation and water re-use in hot climates and drainage and flood management in wetter areas, as well as considering intelligent use of the surrounding infrastructure to positively contribute to effective water and management and improving biodiversity.

Innovative solutions are readily available, particularly if considered at the outset of a project, although retrofit SuDS are also effective. A previous STRI project involved the design of a holistic water management system for a London-based stadium with huge legislative and practical constraints due to its urban location. The solution was simple and proposed to utilise the opportunity presented by an 8,000m playing surface. A geocellular storage area under the pitch can be used to capture, attenuate and reuse water from a variety of sources, primarily stormwater from the roof. Innovative engineering enables the reuse of this water for irrigation, or for discharge when there is little or no rainfall thus managing any flood risk.

Some stadiums, such as Liverpool’s Anfield and Manchester City’s Etihad stadium, are already utilising similar techniques with success, providing upwards of 180,000 gallons of stormwater attenuation. Similar solutions are in development in the Middle East, which incorporate smart passive irrigation and result in them using less than 50% of water than other comparable stadiums.

In addition to intelligent water management, it is important to prevent leaching through the turf profile into discharged water, a practice which will continue to push the industry towards more prohibitive legislation, and to seek alternative products and techniques for managing turf. Water discharge in Hong Kong for example prohibits the discharge of water from sports surfaces to the storm water network, in order to protect the ecologically sensitive bay area.

What does the future hold?

The future requires innovative, joined up thinking to optimise turf design and management. It requires a reassessment of stadium design criteria to incorporate environmental considerations that allow sensitive and specific design responses in each location.

Reducing the constraints on stadium architecture could in turn reduce the environmental impact of a stadium structure in relation to light. This could decrease the amount of energy required to power supplementary systems such as grow lights and ventilation systems.

In the redevelopment of existing stadia, the challenge is to provide tangible benefit by incorporating systems to optimise water usage, manage stormwater, optimise systems to reduce energy usage, reduce inputs and emissions and consider recycled and recyclable materials, as well as considering water sources and reuse. In that way it is possible to provide real environmental benefit in and around urban spaces.

For more information on our design and water management surfaces, please contact us on 01274 565131 or