Belfast Telegraph

It's time to kick up a storm over clogged drains

By Lindy McDowell

Why are we so pathetic about weather in Northern Ireland? We can just about cope with the odd bit of mist or an unusually warm day.

But generally anything outside of sunny spells and scattered showers is enough to tilt us into tailspin.

Frost, ice and snow can bring half the country to its knees (as it did last winter.) Persistent rain for a couple of days means misery and flooding.

It's been raining a lot this week. But then, nothing new there. It's late October. It's entitled.

Nothing new either sadly for people whose homes are flooded on a seemingly regular basis.

Of all the household emergencies that can befall you this is surely one of the worst. Your entire belongings - including precious things like photographs and keepsakes that have deeper sentimental value than monetary worth - ruined by a vile, stinking sludge.

You might get money back on the insurance for your sodden settee.

But that water-damaged treasured picture of your late parents? Nothing puts that back together again.

And then there's the danger. Roads - even major city arterial routes - reach a stage of assault course challenge with great pools, or lakes, of lying water.

And, while you're watching out for other drivers on the road, you also have to keep an eye out for pedestrians even way back on the pavement.

Driving down the congested outside lane of the Ormeau Road the other day, along with all the other traffic choosing to avoid the gullies of the near-kerb region, I watched a couple of cars in the inside lane completely and utterly drench a group of people, including a young child, huddled at a bus stop.

It was broad daylight. The first car might have been taken by surprise by the lying water but the great sheet of dirty water thrown up by his wheels to engulf the pedestrians should have been a warning to the second driver. Sadly, no.

Then again, can you put all the blame on the drivers?

The obvious fact in Northern Ireland is that our drains can't cope with our rain.

This is not a new thing. For years drivers and drenched bystanders have been making the argument that we need supersize American-style storm drains here too. Drains that won't clog with the first handful of autumn leaves.

OK, these things take time. But how hard can it be? Every year we face the same old gushing gullies, the same cries for action.

We need to work out how other countries - some much less developed than our own - have achieved that impressive trick of draining water off major highways.

After last year's deep freeze and the ensuing water shortage fiasco, a team has been set up, by services primarily involved, to try and ensure the same thing doesn't happen here again.

Later in the season we will see how that pans out.

But maybe we need to go the whole hog and appoint a Weather Commissioner (we have one for just about everything else).

We need to stop kidding ourselves that when our supposedly temperate climate throws a strop it's something out of the normal.

The reality is that it's going to 'bucket down' from time to time.

Indeed, catching the tail end of other people's hurricanes and blizzard conditions that would make a Siberian feel at home is what we are stuck with for the foreseeable.

We need a system in general - and drains in particular - that can cope.

About the only plus to come out of the recent deluge is the hope that all those sewer rats looking forward to a vermin baby boom after news that NI Water was curtailing its baiting operation may have ended up as .... well ... drowned rats.

But as linings for clouds go, it's hardly sterling stuff.

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