18th December

Environmental legislation is not to blame for latest flooding disaster

In the aftermath of widespread flooding throughout many parts of Ireland in late December when a month’s average rainfall fell in matter of hours, the European Commission has responded to accusations that habitat directives are partly to blame.

Craughwell

Flooding in Craughwell, Co Galway                                                                                     Photo John Conaghan

‘Any suggestion that EU environmental rules are somehow to blame…..is completely without foundation. EU law does not ban dredging. The Water Framework Directive (WFD) and the Floods Directive do not include detailed rules on how Member States manage their water courses. That is decided by the Member States themselves.

'The Irish Government does not need to notify the European Commission about plans to dredge rivers as there is no such obligation in EU legislation.

'EU Nature Directives (Birds and Habitats) do not prevent measures being taken to protect lives and property. In particular they provide for situations of 'over-riding public interest' to permit activities that might damage a Natura 2000 site but which are necessary for human welfare. The Directives do however require an assessment of the options available before a conclusion is reached that such damage is unavoidable.

'Dredging is not always the solution for flooding. It may help to sort out a local problem but it may also transport the problem downstream, sometimes from rural to urban areas where the damage on properties and economic activities can be much higher. Therefore the basin-wide approach included in EU policies is essential to find effective and long-term solutions.'

EU funds

The EU Solidarity Fund (EUSF) was established to respond to major natural disasters and to express European solidarity to disaster-stricken regions in Europe. The conditions for compensation are set in the EUSF regulation.

As well as the EUSF, many of the programmes co-financed by the European Structural and Investment Funds for 2014-2020 aim to invest in flood prevention and to mitigate against the impact of climate change. In 2014-2020, Ireland will receive almost €705m for investments in climate change adaptation and risk prevention.

EU legislation 

EU Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC)(WFD) promotes sustainable management of water courses with the aim of reconciling environmental protection with human uses, including flood protection and by providing drinking water and clean water for industry, agriculture, etc. The WFD’s general objective is to achieve good ecological status in water bodies but provides for exceptions such as flood protection. It is up to Member States to apply such exceptions according to the conditions provided in the Directive.

The Floods Directive (2007/60/EC) aims to reduce adverse consequences from significant flooding and foresees managing flood risk through measures for prevention, preparedness and protection. The directive is a stand-alone. Implementation needs to be coordinated with the WFD and other related policies.

Nature Directives 

Birds Directive 2009/147/EC and the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC are the principal EU legal instruments for the conservation and sustainable management of nature These Directives do not prevent measures being taken to protect lives and property. In particular they provide for situations of 'over-riding public interest' to permit activities that might damage a Natura 2000 site but which are necessary for human welfare. The Directives do however require an assessment of the options available before a conclusion is reached that such damage is unavoidable, as well as a consideration of any compensatory measures that will be taken.

The Directives also permit derogation from species protection measures 'in the interests of public safety' and for other reasons including socio-economic ones – again, provided no satisfactory alternative is available.

Therefore, EU environmental legislation does not prevent taking action to address the problems of flooding but rather provides a framework to help ensure the environmental sustainability of any such measures.

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