18th December

Finger pointing and quick-fixes won’t solve the flooding crisis

InshoreIreland email

It’s hardly surprising that this issue of Inshore Ireland focuses on the widespread flooding that has been in the headlines since early December and continues to bring hardship, misery and cost to dozens of families in the Shannon flood plain and elsewhere.

It should be no surprise either that the first response towards solving this recurring event is a lot of finger pointing: find someone to blame and find a quick-fix solution.

Some people – understandably desperate at this stage – have begun digging their own drainage channels in a bid to relieve local flooding and save their property from further damage.

Contributors to our flooding feature (pgs 8-11) are experts in their own area, and have outlined solution-based answers that should mitigate and eventually eliminate the worst effects of flooding.

Who’s in charge?

Janice Fuller highlights the fact that despite the Office of Public Works being the lead agency for flood risk management in Ireland there are others– all of whom have some responsibility for water-based issues. Her list includes the National Parks and Wildlife Service; the Environmental Protection Agency, Waterways Ireland; Inland Fisheries Ireland; Local Authorities and the Electricity Supply Board.

She contends that past attempts to introduce effective long-term flood management have been reactive and piecemeal. The tendency has been to look to ‘hard engineering’ solutions such as flood walls, embankments, channels and drains.

Anyone in favour of such action should examine Cara Augustenborg’s piece in which she reminds us this approach failed to solve the flooding in the Los Angeles River – in the 1930s! Her description of a river encased in a concrete straightjacket travelling at 72km an hour leading to deaths and destructive flooding further downstream is truly frightening.

Both writers believe there are more imaginative, and effective, solutions to flooding. They cite the examples of the Yorkshire town of Pickering and Pontebren in Wales – both flood blackspots. And instead of heavy-handed ‘hard engineering’, locals have instead opted for the softer ecological approach of slowing down the pace of the rivers upstream. And it’s working!

Tom McDermott writing on the economics of flooding reminds us that over the past 30 years, flooding has globally killed more than 500 million people and displaced 650 million more.

He argues that solutions are neither cheap nor politically easy and suggests the best response would be to limit our exposure to flooding in the first place, and where the risk of flooding is repeated, relocation may be the least costly option in the long run.

Patrick O’Brien takes a wider view, noting that despite having transposed the EU Water Framework Directive of 2006 into Irish law, we still have not transposed the EU Directive on the Assessment and Management of Flood Risks of 2007.

Why not? This is a scandalous delay for which many people are now paying a very big and personal price.

Development greed or political ignorance?

O’Brien also believes that up to now in Ireland, little thought has been given to the obvious risks and hazards of building on flood plains. And he pulls no punches by condemning the so-called developers whose only motivation is greed.

And despite his assertion there is no shortage of river basin management and hydrological expertise in Ireland, these people are not being listened to or heeded.

What emerges from these contributions is clear: We can now expect future weather patterns of more intense rainfall, and unless government acts immediately to implement long-term and holistic management and control measures, major flooding with devastating consequences will become the norm.

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