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THE JOURNAL OF THE INSTITUTION OF ENGINEERS MAURITIUS

DRAIN DESIGN FOR DRY FEET


Virendra PROAG
University of Mauritius
vprog@uom.ac.mu

Abstract

(2) earmark the boundary of the reserved low lying


areas reserved for extreme flood conditions.
This paper presents the relevant criteria to adopt for
drain design in Mauritius.

Many areas in Mauritius get flooded regularly due


to
(a) sudden rain of unexpected magnitude
(b) building permits given on historically floodable land
(c) inadequate drains.

1.

Introduction

There are many places which receive heavy rains


without anybody being aware of the fact, simply
because no area gets flooded. In other places, however, there are many tell-tale signs, either during or
after the heavy rains. The signs noticed afterwards
indicate the levels to which the water levels rose
during the peak of the storm. If the existing drains
are unable to carry the flood peaks generated, then
people do notice the flooding of the surroundings,
sometimes with devastating results and loss of life
and material damage. A sudden heavy rainfall will
cause flooding if there is no drain to carry the water
away.

Rainfall frequency and intensity records can be


used to estimate the magnitude of rains and the ensuing flood flows. There is a 26 % probability that
a 100 year rain will occur during the next 30 years
(a generation). Even if a higher return interval, e.g.
1,000 years is taken, it is found that there is 7.2 %
chance (not to be neglected as being small) that a
1,000 year flood will occur during a 75 year span
a mans lifetime.
In a small country like Mauritius, it is difficult to
give flood warnings in advance that one can abandon house and move furniture. The flooding might
occur suddenly in the middle of the night, when
there has been a power cut.

A low lying area will certainly be flooded because


all water will eventually accumulate there and it is
usually difficult to make drains which are at a still
lower level. The area nearby is also likely to be affected in case the drain, if any, has an inadequate
carrying capacity.

The only solution to have dry feet would be to have


adequate drainage.
Is it acceptable for ones house to get flooded every
10 years? Or every 30 years? Or never at all during
ones lifetime? The three alternatives will require
drains of different sizes, with different costs.

Flooding seems to be a regular phenomenon which


occurs in many countries for several reasons,
namely: (a) building permits given on historically
floodable land (b) inadequate drains (c) sudden
rain of unexpected magnitude

Once the desired safety from floods has been accepted preferably through legislation it would
be easy to
(1) design for the adequate drain capacity

It is therefore important that the catchment area of


the urban environment be studied for the low lying
areas and the natural draining channels. These areas

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should in the first instance be completely avoided


for building purposes.

2.

While the above explains how building permits


wrongly given or drains with inadequate capacity
allow flooding to occur, it is judicious to examine
sudden rainfall. If intense rainfall magnitudes can
be estimated, this could help in designing the appropriate drains. Thus, before designing drains to carry
flood flows, it is necessary to determine the magnitude of the flood flows.

Outline Planning Schemes

An outline planning scheme aims to define zones


where different activities are allowed, including
housing. The main parameters that are considered
are environmental, but rarely do we find drainage
being taken into account because of possible impacts
of its non existence.

3.

If there were no floods during some 50 years in living memory (or sometimes even during the last 40
years average service time of a building permit
officer), it is reasonably felt that there is no danger
of any big flood occurring in the area. Very often,
there are historical records which can confirm that
the given area had been flooded so many years ago
sometimes, 300 years or 500 years. Unfortunately,
it is not always easy to go through these records or
to check them.

Determination of Flood Flows

One approach to the problem is as follows:


Walk over survey of the area
Obtain local historical flooding levels from
the residents
Collect data
Analysis of collected data to estimate flood
flows
Estimate size of channel sections under the
bridge

4.

Thus, building permits are very often given on land


which, according to historical records, is prone to
flooding.

Walk Over Survey

Site visits undertaken on the existing or nearby regions will enable meeting people, sometimes old,
who recollect what they (or their grandparents) saw
during flood conditions - the flood levels observed.
A backflow analysis may help in crosschecking the
present flood estimates.

Building lots have often been earmarked by the land


promoter within drainage channels low lying contours. While these should be a constraint against
giving the building permit, political pressure or an
unwary building permit officer may come in the
way. At other times, a whole set of houses have been
built in a low lying area which could very well form
a lake if a regular means of feeding it with water was
available. In this case, it is usually difficult to make
drains which are at a lower level.

These are certainly of use, as a check, during design


work.

Very often, flooding occurs because the drain, if any,


has an inadequate carrying capacity, or has a carrying capacity which has not been designed to take
sudden heavy rainfalls Sometimes, the drains are
permanently inadequate as one road engineer explained, he designed road drains to cater only for the
rainfall coming from the road. The drains coming
from the nearby building lots were not supposed to
discharge into his road drain !!!.

5.

Data Collection

5.1

General Approach

How often have promoters accepted a consultants


offer to design drains capable of carrying flow with
a return period of 2 years?
Many codes of practice indicate a good guideline to
design drains, etc with a return period of 50 years.
This section refers to the catchment parameters
which will enable determining some further factors

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needed for the calculation of floods. In a first stage, the catchment area, slope (= elevation difference/stream
length) are required to find the time of concentration.
The peak flood flow is given by the relation Qp = CiA, adjusted (for the units given) to
Qp = 0.278 C i A
Where

C = runoff coefficient
i = rainfall intensity
(mm/hr)
A = drainage catchment area (km2)
(m3/s)
Qp = Design Discharge

The runoff coefficient is a function of the vegetation, urbanisation and other factors of the catchment. The
rainfall intensity to be used depends on the time it takes the whole catchment to contribute to the flow in the
drainage channel.
These parameters are discussed below.

Figure 1 : How rainfall is shared among different components


Figure 1 shows the process of rainfall, wherein rainfall (or precipitation when it includes hail, snow, etc) is
the sum of the ensuing evaporation, infiltration and runoff.
The lands surface always has a slope, however small it might be, which determines the direction of flow
(here, the runoff).
Figure 2 indicates how the ridge at the top of a valley slope will divide rainfall, which will run along slopes
of either side of the ridge. The area enclosed by a given ridge determines a catchment area. Depending on
the point of interest, the catchment area will vary. Point X determines a smaller catchment area than point
Y, and it turn area at point Y is smaller than that governed by point Z. Eventually, the estuary governs an
even bigger area.

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Figure 2: The catchment area gets bigger downstream of the valley

So, this diagram illustrates how rain from the valley will run to a low point. Therefore, unless a drain
has been specifically designed to take this rainwater, it will run into the drain besides the road, even if
the engineer wrongly believed that only water from his road would run into the road drained he designed
to take water, just from the road. And, if there are no road drains, the road itself will act as a welldesigned drain. The recent heavy rainfalls in Port Louis and in other places bear good testimony to this
phenomenon.

Figure 3: The estuary is the lowest and final exit drainage point

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Therefore, one first rule to avoid flooding is to


make sure that the catchment area of the drain
being designed is not underestimated. Not rocket
science, but how often ignored by engineers and
planners!

If Figure 1 is examined again, several observations


may be made:
The equation,
Rainfall = Evaporation + Infiltration + Runoff
while holding true in all cases, does not indicate that
runoff or any of the other parameters are constant,
though they may be taken to be taken as an average
over the year and so on.
For example, during a hot sunny day, imagine that
some rain falls. As the rain drops touch the ground
(soil or road surface) water vapour can be seen to
rise in the air. Evaporation is actually occurring!

Qp

Simple logic, but how often ignored!

5.2

If it is a light rain, the ground surface will be seen


to dry up quickly. Either all rain water evaporates
on the road or some of the rain is absorbed into the
earth : infiltration is taking place.

Runoff Coefficient Value

The runoff coefficient C represents the ratio of a peak


flow and rainfall rate of selected duration determined
or the same average recurrence interval from
frequency analysis of flood peaks and rainfalls.

The end result is, however: there is NO runoff!


At the other end of the scale, even under the same
sunny conditions, if there is a heavy rain, there will
a substantial runoff towards a low point (drain, river,
pond), because the soil has reached its infiltration
capacity. The soil is momentarily saturated.

There are various factors affecting the runoff


coefficient which must be considered. In
consideration of these, the Institution of Engineers,
Australia (Abbey, 1999) recommends that the runoff
coefficient C be taken as

The ratio of this runoff to the measured rainfall is


the runoff coefficient.

C = Fy (0.45 + 0.20 fi)


Where

fi
case.

= 1.20 for a 100-year return period.

Different authors give other formulae or tabulated


values, depending on soil cover.

Therefore, another rule to avoid flooding would


be to make sure that the carrying capacity COUT
of the channel drain exceeds the peak discharge
Qp .
COUT

= frequency factor

The runoff coefficient thus works out (for this return


period) to be
C = 1.2 (0.45 + 0.20 x 1) = 0.78

Figure 3 gives an overall picture of a valley (with


smaller valleys inside) and indicates how everything
discharges into the lowest point which happens to be
the estuary.
In this connection, there is a parallel with traffic
flow. Unless the conveying capacity QOUT is greater
than the incoming flow of traffic QIN, there is going
to be a traffic jam. While this results in a halt or
lower speed in case of vehicles, unfortunately with
water, this higher inflow leads to non-stopping flow
which results in overtopping the drain and flooding
the sides.

Fy

Again, this runoff coefficient may be measured as an


average over a period of time, or at every instant or
over very short intervals.

= impervious factor, taken as 1 as a worst

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Typically, it is usual to give the average over a


long interval of time for the runoff coefficient.

underestimate the loading conditions (here, the


possibility that the rain will not infiltrate at all, nor
evaporate, is real. It does happen.). Furthermore,
the drain is expected to be effective under extreme
conditions, not only when it rains slightly.

However, for those people who have experienced


cyclonic conditions, the situation is different.

5.3 Intense Rainfalls

When there are heavy rains, in fact, rain might be


falling continuously/on and off, during several days.
The soil is now saturated over a longer period, and
this can be felt even outside cyclonic conditions.

Normal rainfalls do not cause flooding to occur. So


a serious study of flooding needs to consider intense
rainfalls.

Imagine now a sudden, heavy rainfall under these


conditions. This will just be runoff. There will be
NO infiltration (saturated soil) and little evaporation
(the air is saturated with water vapour).

The worlds greatest recorded rainfalls, according to


the World Meteorological Organisation are approximated by the equation
P = 422 Td0.475
Where

P = the rainfall (precipitation) depth in
millimetres

Td = the duration in hours

So now, the runoff coefficient C = 1, taken as 1 is a


worst case, that needs to be considered.
Although this might be difficult to swallow, it is
judicious to examine the situation in the light of
actual experience. Mauritius is a tropical island with
tropical heavy rains, not a desert where it rains 20
mm per year !!
If, on top of that (as in Port Louis), the ground
surface consists of clayey soil or is mostly paved,
again the runoff coefficient is going to be C = 1.

The equation was obtained by fitting data from


observed extreme rainfalls at many locations for
durations ranging from one minute to several
months. This equation is an estimate of the
precipitation depths that could occur under very
extreme circumstances.

This is the third rule to consider: In tropical


countries, take C = 1

If Td is taken as 1 hour, the rainfall is 422 millimetres.


Something to think about!

This factor will increase the design flow to be

Fortunately, the rainfall records in Mauritius do


not indicate such extremes in Mauritius, but heavy
rains with 100 mm/hr over an hour or so are not
uncommon (89 mm at Dubreuil on 22nd December
1979 over 1 hour , 310 mm at La Brasserie over 150
minutes on 6th February 1992 and more recently 91
mm at Line Barracks, Port Louis, between 2 and 3
p.m, on 30th March 2013. The rainfall collected over
the first half hour was 50 mm which amounts to an
intensity of 100 mm/hour)

Table 1: Typical Rainfall Intensities (mm/h)


Duration (mins)

Seychelles

Mauritius

30 mins

150

120

60

120

100

30

140

110

60

105

90

T = 100 years

Duration (mins)
T = 50 years

5.4

Rainfall Intensity and Frequency

To introduce the subject, a 100 m sprinter runs at


a speed of 36 km/h on a 10 second race, but the
average speed is much lower (22 km/h) when another

considered, for sure. However, though the engineers


job is to do an economical design, he should not

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runner (or the same person) undertakes a 10,000 m


marathon.

The time of concentration rarely falls exactly on the


duration time for which figures have been provided
by the
Meteorological Services. A judicious
interpolation helps.

Similarly, though a rainfall may last several hours


(long distance race), the critical condition to observe
in drain design is the highest rain intensity (highest
speed over a short distance race).

As previously indicated, a 50 year return period is


a good guideline, but sometimes the designer might
feel that a 100 year return period might be better.
For example, a bridge (Bindra, 1975) is a structure
that is expected to be in operation during a very long
period. In this context, it is natural to consider events
with a return period of 50 years or even more. There
are so many bridges in the world which have been
standing for more than 50 years.

The rainfall intensity i is the average rate of


precipitation in mm/hr from a storm having a
duration equal to the time of concentration.
It is assumed that runoff due to a heavy rainfall will
reach a peak at the time of concentration when the
whole catchment is contributing to flow. Then, the
duration of the design storm is equal to the time of
concentration.

A 100-year rainfall has a 1% chance of occurring in


any single year. This issue will be discussed below.
6.
Is a Return Period of 50 years Acceptable?
The results obtained from the above calculations
can prove to be very important in the design of hydrological structures such as bridge culverts and
channels to drain the area under consideration and
prevent flooding. Every structure is designed for a
certain design life and it must be ensured that this
structure serves for its purpose without endangering
any life and property.

The time of concentration tc is thus the time taken


for water to travel from the catchment boundary to
the point of interest (Points X, Y or Z or estuary) in
Figure 2).
For small, steep areas, (e.g. Mauritius, Seychelles),
the Kirpich formula has been found to give reasonable
estimates for tc. In this formula,
tc = 0.01947 L0.77 S -0.385
where
= time of concentration in minutes
tc
L
= maximum length of travel of water (m)
and
S
= slope of catchment = H/L in which
H
= difference in elevation between the most
remote point on the catchment and the outlet.

The risk that failure of such a structure occurring


during its design life has been explained by Mays
(2004) as follows:
Let P be the probability of the occurrence of an
event,
1 P
= probability that the event will not
occur
(1 P)(1 P) = probability that the event will not
occur in two successive years.
(1 P)(1 P)(1 P) = probability that the event will
not occur in three successive years.
= probability that the event will not
(1 P) N
occur during a span of N successive years.

Mays (2004), Reddy (2008) and Rmniras (1986)


give other similar formulae, applicable in different
conditions.
Rainfall intensity-frequency-duration curves are
usually derived by the countrys Meteorological
Services. The rainfall intensity (mm/ or mm/min)
figures are available for different periods of time,
such as 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 60 and 120 minutes. Table 1
shows examples of rainfall intensities for Seychelles
and Mauritius.

Hence, the risk, R or the probability that the event


will occur during a span of N years is given by,

R = 1 (1 - P) N
The probability P is given by P = 1/Tr. Table 2 shows,
for return periods Tr and various spans of years N,

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Table 2: Risk R, that a flood of a given return period will be equalled or exceeded during
periods of various lengths.
Return
Risk R for various spans of N years
Period
Tr (years)
1

10

30

50

75

100

200

500

1.0

1.0

1.0

1.0

1.0

1.0

1.0

1.0

0.67

0.89

1.0

1.0

1.0

1.0

1.0

1.0

10

0.41

0.65

0.96

0.995

1.0

1.0

1.0

1.0

50

0.10

0.18

0.45

0.64

0.78

0.87

0.98

1.0

100

0.05

0.10

0.26

0.40

0.53

0.63

0.87

0.99

500

0.01

0.020

0.058

0.095

0.14

0.18

0.33

0.63

1,000

0.005

0.010

0.03

0.049

0.072

0.095

0.18

0.39

5,000

0.001

0.002

0.006

0.010

0.015

0.020

0.039

0.095

10,000

0.0005

0.001

0.003

0.005

0.0075

0.0099

0.020

0.049

the risk R that a flood with certain return period will


be equalled or exceeded during periods of span N
years.
Rainfall frequency and intensity records can be used
to estimate the magnitude of rains and the ensuing
flood flows. In this respect, it is important to note
that there is a 26 % probability that a 100 year rain
will occur during the next 30 years (a generation).

ten used in the design of huge structures. There is


also an increase in cost by considering the design of
a structure for a long return period. However, this
should be done to be safe from calamities causing
loss of life and property.
Many Codes of Practice indicate that one of the
reasons for choosing a return period of 50 years has
been that the average lifetime of most buildings and
structures is near 50 years.

In practical terms, this means that each generation


has a 1 in 4 chance of experiencing flooding, even
if an exceptional (?) rainfall intensity of 100 year
has been considered. Over a 75 year lifetime, the
likelihood rises to 0.53, i.e., the average person has
a 1 in 2 chance of experiencing flooding during
his lifetime.

This may have been true at one time. There


are, however, other factors which need to be
considered:
(1) the use of better materials has increased the
lifetime of the buildings and structures. Similarly,
the corresponding drains or bridge culverts will
have a longer life.

Is the population ready to accept this?

(2) why should any owner, demolish his building


after 50 years, if it is still serviceable? The Eiffel
Tower was built in 1889, to be demolished just after
the Universal Paris Exhibition. It is still standing and
being regularly maintained. We have not yet seen
any drain being demolished to be enlarged, except
when they have really been shown to be inadequate.
Even if a local authority tried to do so, it very likely
that adjoining structures would prevent this.

Even if a higher return interval (e.g. 1,000 years) is


taken, it is found that there is 7.2 % chance (not to be
neglected as being small) that a 1,000 year flood will
occur during a 75 year span a mans lifetime.
It can be noticed that the risk that an event is reached
or exceeded for a certain span of time, decreases
with an increase in return period. This result is of-

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There so many cathedrals and nearby bridges built


in the eighteenth century in Mauritius (thirteenth
century in Europe) still standing today. Would any
present day designer still consider a 50 years lifetime
for such monuments?

= 0.030 rivers in good condition

Design constraints are usually channel or river


width and slopes, but the designer should try to see
if other accompanying measures need to be taken.
The choice is likely to be governed by minimum
headway clearances under the bridge due (1) to the
possibility of branches and trees being carried away
and (2) other facilities passing under or by the side
of the bridge.

(3) the cost of demolition becomes so high that the


owner is likely to push the time limit before he has
to really bring down the structure..
If these factors are considered, what return period
should be considered?
In dam hydrology, the notion of maximum possible
flood (return period of 10,000 to 50,000 years,
depending on authors) has made its appearance, for
exactly the same reasons the possible danger to
human life.

Some river training works might be necessary just


upstream or downstream of the bridge.
In this context, this formula is enlightening. The
same channel will have different carrying or
discharge capacities if any of the variables changes.
A bigger cross sectional area will increase the
channel capacity, but the effect will be attenuated
if the roughness changes from a smooth, cement
lining to a river in bad condition.

It might be argued that with only some 100 years


data or, in most cases, even less, it is difficult to
make predictions (or wild guesses) about 10,000
years recurrence intervals. But, if a bridge culvert or
drainage channel is needed now nobody will wait
to collect another 50 years of rainfall data.

8.

The Case for Port Louis

The motorway was flooded at Caudan between


Rogers House and the waterfront on 11th February
2013, without much damage. There was a worse
incident on 30th March 2013, with loss of life.

7.
Estimation of the Peak Design
Discharge
At this stage, the peak design discharge may be
calculated and hence used to design the drain or
bridge culvert as the case may be.

The rainfall recorded, on 30th March 2013, at Line


Barracks (less than 100 mm in 1 hour) would
indicate, from Table 1, a return period of some 50100 years. However, the fact that there was a similar
flooding at Place dArmes/Caudan (apparently
without the underground pedestrian pathways
getting submerged) on 11th April 2003 (Wright A.,
Moonien V., 2013) confirms the values of Table 2.
A 50 year flood does not occur every 50 years! It
will certainly occur during a period of 500 years, but
may also occur within the next 10 years !!

Once the design flow has been established, channel


hydraulics may be used to design the channel or
culvert. One typical carrying capacity formula is
that of Manning

where
COUT = flow in channel (m3/s)
A = wetted area (m2)
R = hydraulic radius (m) = wetted area/wetted
perimeter (m)
S = channel slope
n = Mannings roughness coefficient

= 0.010 smooth, cement lining

= 0.013 good brickwork

In the light of the above discussion, it is judicious


to ask whether flooding can occur again, and how
soon?
The motorway from Montebello towards Port Louis
is lined, practically on both sides with concrete
borders or walls, which are supposed to be very

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Photo 1: Place dArmes. The arrows show the slope direction

Photo 2 : The Caudan Esplanade (right) is at a higher level than Place dArmes

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effective against cars trying to rub into them. The


walls are also provided, at regular distances, with
weep holes, which are expected to evacuate water
into the side drains.

the existing canals/streams are not enough or are


inadequate to evacuate the water reaching Place
dArmes in case of heavy rainfall.
So, knowing that a rainfall of intensity 100 mm/
hr is not uncommon (see examples and values
Meteorological Services Table 1), have we proposed
any new canals to evacuate more water?

While these weep holes can be very effective in


evacuating low flows, their small size (some 30 x 10
cm to 40 x 15 cm) becomes inadequate when heavy
rains and winds bring in their loads of gravel, leaves,
and mud. When these weep holes are blocked, the
bituminous motorway becomes a very well designed,
bitumen lined channel, which was well evidenced
during the heavy rains of 30th March 2013. The
motorway was conveying water which was supposed
to be evacuated into the side drains.

9.

Conclusion

This study has proposed an approach to be adopted


prior to the approval of planning or zoning schemes
with respect to possible flooding.
Rule 1: Do not underestimate the catchment to be
drained, particularly when designing roads. The area,
A, is much bigger than the road itself.

At end of July 2013, the weep holes are still of the


same size!

Rule 2: In a tropical country like Mauritius, take C


= 1, to cater for extreme conditions when the soil is
saturated.

Between Edith Cavell street and the Government


House, the lowest points in Port Louis occur along
the La Poudrire street. Rightly so, the two channels
Le Pouce stream and La Butte Thonnier canal are
located on both sides of this road. The ground also
has a downstream slope towards the sea. This means
that any rainfall will be channelled towards these two
canals/channels and towards the sea.

Rule 3: Determine the rainfall intensity, i, using


the proper and adequate return period, which is
commensurate with what the population expects from
engineers for leading a comfortable life.
Rule 4: Determine the peak discharge Qp from
the equation Qp = 0.278 C i A. The size (width and
height) of the channel must consider the possibility of
avoiding blockage by shrubs, leaves and trees during
cyclones.

The only problem is that at the level of the Harbour


Front and Place dArmes, there is an uprising obstacle
(Photos 1 and 2) in the form of the motorway and the
Caudan Esplanade. This now implies, that should the
peak discharge flow from heavy rainfall exceed the
discharge capacity of the channels, the flood waters
will not go directly towards the sea, unless and until
they have overtopped the motorway and the Caudan
waterfront Esplanade. Of course, with a consequential
ponding of the area between the Port Louis museum
and the Place dArmes. Again, this is simple logic,
borne out by the events of 11th April 2003 and 30th
March 2013.

Rule 5: Design the drain carrying capacity

Rule 6: Check that

COUT

Qp

It has been argued that a 50 year return period is probably too low and higher return periods should be taken, given the relatively high probability of occurrence
during a mans lifetime.

Even assuming that the motorway constitutes a


roadblock in the evacuation of rainwater from Place
dArmes, historical records (Chelin 1989) show
that floods have occurred several times, prior to
the construction of the motorway. This implies that

Once the desired safety from floods has been accepted


preferably through legislation it would be easy to
earmark the boundary of the reserved low lying areas
reserved for extreme flood conditions. This should

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ensure that houses do not get flooded regularly.

References

It is essential that such guidelines and low lying


boundaries be properly adhered to, particularly when
establishing planning zones.

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