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Shannon Flooding Works Will Be Carried Out This Year, Promises Minister

Thursday, 13 April 2017

MINISTER of State Seán Canney promised on Monday evening that significant flooding works will be carried out on the Shannon this year.

 He was speaking at a public meeting in Athlone Institute of Technology which discussed the age-old, vexing issue of the Shannon flooding problem and its impact on people's homes and lands. 

 The Minister, who is the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW) and Flood Relief, assured the meeting that he wasn't simply being populist and the consequences of the proposed actions are being carefully considered, such as the effect on the environment. He said the government is being inspired by the Dutch model (a country whose water problems put Ireland's in the shade) and the Dutch apparently have given them the thumbs up.

 IFA member Michael Silke, who has been an advocate about this issue for many years, spoke with passion about the adverse economic and mental effects which the flooding has taken on those living along the Shannon basin. He said the most important thing in this issue is the effect it has on people.

Mr Silke pointed out that he loved the environment as much as anyone, and a visit to his farm would prove that. He pointed out that summer flooding wiped out the corncrake, and it looks likely that the curlew will have disappeared within the next ten years. 

Representatives from Bord na Móna said that their company is willing to set aside some of their bogland as floodland, which would alleviate the problem.

Another person pointed out that drains created during forestry work on hillsides are badly conceived and have exacerbated the flooding problem.

The ESB's role in the problem was extensively discussed and the effect of Ardnacrusha on the Shannon system.

Mr Canney outlined the range of additional measures being taken to address flood risk on the river.

He said the Shannon Flood Risk State Agency Co-ordination Working Group (also called the Shannon Working Group) met on 21st of March last to agree its 2017 Work Programme which sets out actions and activities to manage flood risk for the Shannon catchment.

He said this extensive Work Programme demonstrates the ongoing work and co-ordination by all State bodies to jointly and proactively address the flood risk problem.

He pointed out that last December a major decision was taken to  develop a plan for a strategic maintenance programme on the River. 

He commented that the Shannon Working Group's Work Programme will continually grow during 2017.

The working group, he remarked, 'is focussed and actively working to develop the plan that will halt the deterioration of the river channel and complement the preferred measures for those areas at assessed risk identified through the Shannon CFRAM Study. The Group has now agreed to the delivery of targeted maintenance activities in specific locations that are being identified as feasible by the sub-committee.

'The sub-committee members have worked together to identify the scope of potential activities, and proposals are now emerging for targeted activities to be carried out in a range of locations this year in accordance with the permitted seasonal windows for such activities. The recent targeted activity by Waterways Ireland and the OPW around Madden's Island downstream of Athlone is a successful demonstration of this collaborative approach and both the Group and I would like to acknowledge the valuable contribution of the NPWS to ensure that the clearing of the trees was carried out appropriately to enhance the conveyance capacity of the channel.'

The Minister pointed out that as well as targeted measures over the coming months, the Group has agreed to some environmental and habitat surveys as a first necessary step to inform a long-term plan of maintenance.

The Group also agreed to review and continue the pilot lowering of the levels on Lough Allen during the Winter season for another year. The Minister acknowledged that the protocols agreed between the ESB, Waterways Ireland and the OPW were successfully implemented resulting in a lowering of the target Winter water level by 0.7 metres. 

The Minister, in referring to the impact of summer flooding on the agricultural community, announced that the Group has also endorsed the commencement of a specific project to identify viable flood risk reduction measures in the Shannon Callows.   

'Building on initial assessments undertaken as part of the Shannon CFRAM study, the OPW are leading on the project, in conjunction with Waterways Ireland, Inland Fisheries Ireland and the NPWS. The project is to include a more detailed assessment of the possible removal of identified constrictions or "pinch points" upstream of Meelick Weir.'

The IFA has welcomed the creation of the Shannon Working Group and its proposals. The IFA Flood Project Team Chairman Padraic Joyce said the proposed maintenance scheme must be implemented without further delay. Mr Joyce said the Working Group is a welcome development which has long been sought by the IFA. 'It is now important,' he said, 'that this plan is implemented, so that flooding can be avoided or mitigated on the river and we do not get a repeat of the winter 2015 floods or the problems surrounding summer flooding.'

Anja Murray, an ecologist and presenter on RTE's Eco Eye, told the meeting in AIT that Natural Flood Management has been used to significant success in other countries. She said that through the utilisation of peatland, wetland and forestry the water in the basin system has more places to go to, which alleviates the flooding.

 Mr Silke said the problems began in the 1840s when the British carried out construction work along the Shannon. Following this the first great flood to be recorded along the river occurred in 1861. Mr Silke said the British admitted that the weirs they had constructed at Meelick and Athlone caused this flood. 

 He added that in his opinion, and in the opinion of many, the creation of Ardnacrusha in the 1920s further exacerbated the problem; as did the advent of Bord na Móna in the 1940s and the commencement of industrial scale peat cutting. 'As a result of this work a lot of peat silt flowed into the river, narrowing the channel and creating islands. These silt islands are a major blocking problem and need to be removed.' 

He said that some believe the river level needs to be reduced by another one foot and eight inches. He called for a single authority to be created to oversee the river's maintenance, which is an age-old call. 'The Shannon has suffered for many years from poor management and little maintenance.'

 He said the creation of flooding defences will merely push the problem downstream. More needs to be done than the creation of flooding defences. A dredging scheme needs to be undertaken as well.

 One attendee pointed out that there are still problems with the insurance system for those who suffer from the flooding problem. Mr Canney said he is looking into this.

'The problem is we have all put stuff into the river,' commented another attendee, 'but we haven't taken enough stuff out.'

Mr Canney said he looked at the creation of a single authority, but this would create a legal quagmire. Therefore he has left the various bodies in place which are associated with the river. 'I have avoided that legal quagmire and I am determined to get a significant amount of flood mitigation work done. There are lots of different views about what to do with the problem. For years we have been arguing and expressing our views but not doing anything significant. I am determined to change that.'

 One attendee said the history of the Shannon was 'an environmental disaster' and he lamented the loss of the old river prior to the first works in the 1840s.

The proposal to pump water from Parteen Weir to Dublin was mentioned. Mr Canney said he had not been briefed on this at all. He said his primary aim was flood mitigation. 'Please give us a chance. We are about to do significant works. We are sincere and committed.'

John Hanley, Chairman of Roscommon IFA, commended Mr Silke for 'speaking with passion.' He said farmers are the custodians of our countryside. He said the relocation scheme might suit some but most wanted to remain where they are.

 Mr Silke commented that the water for Dublin should be extracted from Lough Ree and not Parteen Weir 'because it would alleviate the flooding south of Lough Ree.'

'Year after year the flooding is getting progressively worse. There are wetlands being created where they never previously existed.'

Minister Canney said the Dutch model is based on the principle of 'make room for the rivers.' It's a model which works and the government has looked to Holland for advice on tackling its river problems. 'The flood mitigation works we will carry out this year won't be one off. There will be a continuous maintenance programme in the years thereafter. If there isn't then the problem could return. Our primary, immediate aim is to get the most flood relief for people that we can as quickly as possible.'

Liam Broderick of the Mid Shannon Flood Relief group told the meeting that sometimes the ESB is too slow in releasing water. 'I live in an area which was never flooded before the floods of 2009 and 2015. The situation is definitely getting worse.' Anja Murray said Climate Change will mean more rain.

Another person pointed out that the river was once abundant with salmon prior to the 1920s. Sadly their numbers are now drastically reduced.

Tom Browne of the ESB said the ESB can only do so much with the management of the weirs and Ardnacrusha. Other mitigation works will also have to be undertaken.

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