This “Rain Day” why not go out and mow the drive?

Wastewater network strategy manager at United Utilities, Tony Griffiths, talks about ways we can all do our bit to help stop our communities from flooding

This Saturday (29th July) is Rain Day – a celebration of rain and its essential life-giving power. It turns out that the town of Waynesburg, Pennsylvania has been celebrating this day for the last 140 years after a local pharmacist noticed it always seemed to rain on that day of the year. As a Mancunian born and bred, I think I know the feeling. Rain is certainly a resource to be celebrated and used wisely, but increasingly we’re seeing that you can have too much of a good thing.

That’s why I was at the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show last week, talking to visitors about an amazing garden called Slow The Flow which won a Gold Award and Best Show Garden. United Utilities sponsored the garden and, besides being very beautiful in a Scandi-Zen kind of way, it was also designed to give people some inspiration about the way we use our outdoor space at home, and how that can really have an impact on flooding.

I know from experience how United Utilities’ wastewater teams are increasingly responding to calls from householders whose homes and gardens have been flooded after a torrential downpour. We’re seeing more and more of these events during the summer months. It’s partly down to changing weather patterns, but here’s another stat that makes you think. In 2005 around 4 percent of front gardens in the North West were paved over. By 2015 that figure had increased to 21 per cent. Rainwater that hits a paved front garden ends up in the sewer systems, adding to the strain on our urban infrastructure. So our Slow The Flow garden gave visitors an alternative view of how to create a new parking space, extension or patio without contributing to flooding downstream.

The designer John Everiss included features like a building with a grass roof, a rain chain to channel water into planting areas and storage tanks to fill up and empty according to the weather. One idea that really seemed to resonate with visitors was the driveway made out of a permeable concrete grid with grass implants. You don’t need to jet wash it, or weed it, you just mow it.

Increasingly we are all going to have to think more creatively about how we manage our rainwater drainage sustainably as our towns and cities develop. That goes for the water companies too. Building bigger and bigger sewers and treating more and more diluted sewage is not a cost effective option. We need to be thinking about storm storage ponds that can enhance the environment for wildlife and residents. Planting trees in gravel-filled storm collection channels along our city streets. Cities like Copenhagen are leading the way with some of these ideas and just last week we held customer research sessions to see what our bill-payers think about these ideas and how we should be prioritising their funding as we plan our investment for 2020 to 2025.

So this Rain Day I will be celebrating Manchester’s finest natural resource and wondering whether to go out and mow the drive.