16 Aug 2023

Balancing innovative engineering and the environment.

CKL’s environmental engineering team is a unique unit. Ten-strong and spread across three regions, they specialise in stormwater solutions. Sounds niche, but team leader Andy Dow insists stormwater engineering is now one of trickiest, most fundamental aspects of land development.

“In days past, the development question used to be, how can we get rid of stormwater so it's not an issue to our properties and buildings? Now, we work with clients’ aspirations to create developments that are sympathetic to the natural environment. So rather than piping a stream, we're now looking to enhance a stream and provide amenity value. That’s a huge shift, and it’s a specialty area in engineering.

“For a lot of small developments – like a two or three lot subdivision – stormwater and flooding are the areas developers can come unstuck on. You can't ask just any land development engineer to do it because it’s such a specialised discipline. That’s why CKL so often wins work. We’re experts in this space.”

This claim is supported by impressive credentials. Out of Andy’s team of 10, one has a PhD in environmental engineering, and four others are completing their doctorates. Kellie, another member of the team, is an ecological scientist. Plus, CKL Director Bronwyn Rhynd is an award-winning stormwater specialist, with a career spanning 25 years as a leading expert in the water resource area.

Andy believes stormwater design requires this level of expertise, although he concedes, the complexities environmental engineering contends with can come as a surprise to some.
“To some, our stormwater and flooding systems seem like ‘over design.’ But we can’t simply plan for current conditions; we have to account for future scenarios. We’ve had clients push back because they feel we’re designing for rainfall that ‘will never happen.’ But then that rainfall does happen, and they’re very glad they trusted us.

“Then there are a host of often unseen ecological issues. For example, our stormwater design needs to cater for safe passage for fish. We also design stormwater and flood systems that will enhance and protect receiving environments, like wetlands and streams.

“Then there are the surrounding properties that we have to take into account. How will our engineering decisions affect them? I’m glad we have some very smart people on our team to figure it all out.”

Engineers are, by nature, conservative people. Their jobs often require them to work within strict guidelines and regulations. Even so, CKL’s environmental team finds room for creative, and sometimes cutting edge, solutions. Andy recalls an innovative engineering solution for the Outboard Boat Club in Orakei, Auckland.

“On this particular job, there was a very low fall, or head, between the surface and the receiving environment, which was the Waitematā Harbour. So we used an upflow filter, which was not yet an approved product by Auckland Council. We assessed that the upflow filter was the best application for this job and we were able to talk with Auckland Council to adopt it as a treatment approach.

“Our upflow application has become a case study which proves its suitability for future use.

“At other times, we’ll receive a layout where the stormwater is expected to be in the back corner of the building. Ugly, but out of sight. We see other possibilities. Our stormwater design could become a feature that sits nicely with a local park, helping people connect with the environment. Our aim is design in such a way that you don't know where the landscaping ends and the stormwater treatment begins.”

A clear indication of how central stormwater and flood systems are, is the involvement of Andy’s team throughout the entire lifecycle of a project.

“Our engineers are there at the beginning of a project, giving advice to planners and surveyors to establish a feasible yield. We’re also there at the end to help our engineers in the final stages of building consent and the appropriate sign-offs.

“I think this entire cycle aspect sets us apart from other companies.”

Environmental Engineering