Rain causing sewer problems as well

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The heavy rains of the summer and early autumn of 2011 have sparked floods, blocked roads, halted train traffic and wiped out farmers’ crops. Now it seems the deluge is highlighting serious inadequacies in the sewage systems for towns and cities all over the country.

The drainage infrastructure in many areas from Hedmark County in the east to Akershus County just outside Oslo hasn’t been able to handle all the water pouring down from the sky and then through the streets. Cellars have been flooded and insurance companies already have reported a flood of claims for water damage.

In the town of Våler in Hedmark, Kristian Dalen is alone in his job as technical chief for the community’s water and sewage system. He told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) recently that he wished he had more help from others with the technical expertise needed to make sure Våler township’s 4,000 residents have clean drinking water and functioning drainage systems.

As in many areas around Norway, the local water and sewage systems were installed in the 1950s and 1960s. They need improvement and expansion, and the torrential rains of this year and last have pinpointed their inadequacy. As Dalen has discovered, the current system is under-dimensioned to handle all the water.

As climate change brings warmer, wetter and wilder weather to Norway, climate experts have noted that inadequate water and sewage networks are among public infrastructure demanding the most attention. Norway only has around 1,100 engineers responsible for the systems, according to their professional organization RIF (Rådgivende Ingeniørers Forening), meaning each individual needs to manage infrastructure valued at as much as NOK 500 million.

Dalen told DN he has no time for strategic planning, as he deals with such tasks as acute water leaks, drinking water tests, repairs at sewage pumping stations and constant calls from customers. “I only have time to fix things that constantly are breaking down,” he said.

Liv Kari Skudal Hansteen of RIF is urging politicians to boost the importance of water and sewage systems on their agendas. “Without more renewal now, we’ll have a huge price bomb, because the system will break down,” Hansteen told DN. “Nobody is taking responsibility for this.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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