Connecting with the community – how to get people on board with WSUD

A recent article in a local Perth newspaper high-lighted the concerns some members of a local Coodanup community had regarding the upgrade of some traditional drainage infrastructure into a proposed biofiltration basin.

Residents felt they hadn’t been consulted and that the project would result in a big open “three-foot deep” drain that would fill up with rubbish, as well as “mosquitoes and filth and green slime”.

Related image

Now no one wants green slime out the front of their house.

But in all seriousness, this resident was also concerned because of the apparent lack of communication with the community around the project. This suggested that they did not know what was going to be built and how it would look, how it would affect drainage and the environment in the local area, and especially not the benefits of constructing a WSUD system. Some residents were also under the impression that flooding from nearby drainage pipes was a result of similar projects and that apparent similar projects would severely devalue their property.

Now this definitely doesn’t mean to say that they weren’t give the opportunity to learn¬† about the drainage upgrades in their area. In fact, successfully engaging with the community as part of any new project is a ongoing challenge for all local governments! However, it does high-light the importance of engaging the community in order to get non-traditional projects accepted successfully, especially if they’re particularly visibly as most WSUD projects are.

A well designed, constructed, landscaped, and maintained biofiltration system can look very attractive as part of parks and streetscapes, as well improving the quality of local stormwater runoff and providing habitat for the local birds and bees (and they definitely shouldn’t be encouraging mosquitoes and green slime).

Examples of some attractive and well functioning biofiltration systems in WA may be found right under your very nose:

 

The fact that these residents presumed a WSUD system would end up as a big hole with slime and mosquitoes in it indicates that more could definitely be done by industry and government to communicate what WSUD actually and its benefits to the community, as well as the environment.

So what are some good ways to get community onboard the WSUD train?

Here are some suggestions:

  • get information out there – send out examples of case studies, including diagrams, nice photos, and summaries of what WSUD is, and where WSUD has been done and is working well (i.e. that these systems are supposed to be the opposite of big, fenced holes in the ground);
  • signage – local & state government/industry could install signs in front of well established WSUD systems such as rain gardens, swales or biofiltration basins so that the local community can actually identify what they look like and get a sense of their function (the City of Mandurah and City of Busselton have some great examples as shown below);
  • maintenance – it is critical that WSUD systems are properly and regularly maintained to ensure that they do what they are supposed to (and to prevent the green slime and mossie fear from being realised). This can include removal of rubbish, prevention of sediment build up, identification of blockages due to organic waste/rubbish, and proper pruning of biofilter vegetation; and
  • put them to work – encourage the community to take ownership of their local WSUD system by getting them involved in the planting of biofilter vegetation and regular maintenance of the systems. This will engage people in a way that they will also get to understand why and how the systems are supposed to work, as well as make sure they continue to do so.

 

As long as biofiltration systems are increasingly demonstrated by industry and government as having a positive benefit to the local community, they will soon become the ‘new norm’. However, it is important that time and resources are truly dedicated to this cause to ensure that WSUD is successfully adopted in the long term.