Overgrown sections of Silver River at Broughall, Co Offaly
A councillor is calling for robust action as land around local rivers floods due to rivers being left uncleared of overhanging branches, silt and debris.
Last week, the 'Tribune' visited along with Cllr John Leahy several sites along the Silver River, outside Broughall and Ballyboy, to see first hand the extent of the overgrowth in these areas. According to Cllr Leahy, there is over fifty years of overgrowth in some locations throughout the county. “And, nothing is being done,” he stressed.
“People are wondering why the land is flooding and farmers are voicing serious concerns to me about this issue on an ongoing basis. But, nothing has been done in some parts for about half a century.”
As we stopped at a spot along the Silver River at Broughall, John pointed out that “we could go to the Camcor and Brosna rivers and it would be the same situation”. “This is just typical of what's happening in every river in the county,” he noted.
The local councillor explained that years ago these rivers would have been kept cleared and dredged for silt. “There would have been a programme in place where they would have gone along the river bank and done some clearing and dredging,” he said.
Asked if he had contacted the various departments and agencies involved in the maintenance of the rivers, Cllr Leahy replied he had and was being told a “couple of things”. “Firstly, they are saying it's a budgetary issue so there are financial constraints. Next, they are saying they are looking at the various 'hot spots' like Athlone. But, they are not looking at the likes of the farmers, who may have 50 acres of land and 15 acres of it is under water. That's the problem we have.”
Heading to a second location along the river, John explained he was being contacted on a regular basis now by farmers, who were struggling with this issue of flooding. “This is a growing problem. I have farmers all over the county, saying to me to come down and see the flooding for myself........ I am looking into these rivers and it's the same thing. There are trees overgrown in the rivers. The farmers say to me by the time you come back here again, the flood will be up and the trees will be in the river and nobody will take it[the tree] out of the river.”
While, we stood looking at the river, the water levels were noticeably high and John said this was because of the amount of silt along the river basin. “I have tried to do something on this and keep hitting a stone wall,” he added.
A number of years ago, Cllr Leahy put a motion to Offaly County Council calling for legislation to be passed that everything would be vetoed in order to save people's houses, farms and livelihoods and that specialists species should not take over and work would continue in areas where it was needed.
A further consequence of this continued flooding is that the water is spreading onto rural roads and “this is leading to a deterioration in the condition of many of our roads, tearing them up”. “There's a huge knock on effect with this from start to finish,” John continued.
Mentioning the Minister for state at the Office of Public works, Kevin 'Boxer' Moran, TD, Cllr Leahy said the Minister continued to make announcements about areas affected by flooding. However, John said he had “not seen one allocation of monies making a difference to people living and working along the banks of rivers like the Silver river”.
Then, we were joined by a local farmer, who told the 'Tribune' it was over thirty years since he had seen anyone working along the rivers to clear them. Pointing to the land adjacent to where we stood, he said this land all flooded and that a nearby bridge had also collapsed last winter due to the volume of water.
He recalled how lads “did come along to clear out the river” and how the piles of removed debris were left along the river banks. However, he said now all he saw was more and more land backing up with water and flooding every year.
Looking towards the river, it was clear the river bank was narrowing and further down the river, the farmer told the 'Tribune' where there was less activity, the ditches were nearly closing in on both sides across the river. “That is just way it is, I suppose,” he added.
Heading back towards Ballyboy, the conversation with John continued how there was no funding from the Council to carry out this work. “There's no programme of works with the Office of Public Works to do it. The environmental agencies are saying leave everything as it is because they are happy they are protecting whatever they need to protect.” According to John, farmers and landowners, however, were getting very frustrated, “disappointed and disheartened” trying to get this issue addressed.
Travelling to our final destination just outside Ballyboy, Cllr Leahy pointed to the huge amount of branches, twigs and debris that lay piled at the bridge, blocking the flow of the water. Clearly overgrown, the river bank was narrow with branches also overhanging the river along its verge.
“Even after one night's rain, there's no way the water levels should be this high and the flow like this. It needs to be dredged, cleaned and the river bed deepened. It's all the silt that has built up.”
Trying to highlight this issue, John said he had put motions into Offaly County Council on this issue, which had been passed and sent to the Environment Minister. “But, nothing is happening on this,” he frustratingly pointed out.
“Nobody is taking this issue seriously at the moment. If we let this issue go on for another twenty years, we are talking about the land flooding now plus more land because it's inevitable the water has to go somewhere,” the councillor concluded.