A blog post by Rebecca Pearce (University of Exeter) - 22nd November 2016

Freeze-thaw Ice

In my attempt to capture a broad spectrum of water scarcity events from across the UK I have sought to track down some of the trickiest subjects and convince them to talk about some of the most controversial moments, where water is in short supply. From a summer drought perspective, Yorkshire in 1995 is high on the list for painful memories from water suppliers in crisis. However, the number one event I want to capture in audio has been, for the past two and a half years, the Northern Ireland freeze-thaw disaster in December 2010, that left 215,000 properties without water due to an 80% increase in demand caused by a large number of pipe bursts, that outstripped the Water Authorities ability to treat and pump fresh supplies.

The resulting Utility Regulator's report was relatively tough on those in control of water management and customer handling at the time and quite understandably, the people involved have been reluctant to personally share their memories of the event with the Historic Droughts Project. While the key aspects of the event have been recorded and analysed in reports and the media, there is no substitute for hearing about how ordinary people cope in these situations, and what it is like to try and maintain emergency supplies for large numbers of people, in poor weather conditions.

As a politically tricky subject, finding anyone willing to go on record to talk about that time, was always going to be difficult but after an extremely long period of time and a lot of research and sensitive 'off the record discussions' with support agency staff and emergency planners, my hopes of ever getting to Belfast were wearing thin. Then finally I struck lucky. It was a kind word from an oral testimony donor that broke down the final barrier and paved the way for a memory capture session, which will be held at Belfast County Hall in December.

At the end of a very informative discussion regarding the 1995 drought and how it affected the management of parks, gardens, and sports pitches in the Calderdale area, ex Local Authority Parks Manager, Brendan Mowforth, who is now a Britain in Bloom Judge, mentioned that he would be attending an event with Bloom winners from Northern Ireland and kindly offered to put in a good word for our programme. The result has been an overwhelmingly warm and positive response from Northern Ireland and I look forward to meeting emergency response co-ordinators and community members there in December.

I am indebted to Brendan for his efforts and a very revealing and interesting testimony.