Call for OPW to control Shannon level
A REPORT on the problem of flooding in the river Shannon has called for overall control of water levels and flood management to be transferred from the ESB to the Office of Public Works.
In the short term, the report by the Oireachtas Committee on the Environment wants an urgent review of the ESB-controlled water levels in the country’s biggest waterway.
Launching the report yesterday, committee chairman Ciarán Lynch TD called for an urgent response from Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan. He said there was “no point in waiting until the Shannon next bursts its banks and brings hardship, mud and cost on the people living along its banks”.
The committee was also critical of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which it said had prevented desilting of the channel between Meelick, Co Galway and Banagher, Co Offaly.
Among the measures recommended by the report are an early-warning system for floods and an emergency management scheme.
Committee member Marcella Corcoran Kennedy (Fine Gael) said “the last flood may well have seen the demise of the corncrake” in the flood plain known as the Shannon callows.
Although the report calls only for a review of the statutory and operational levels of the river system, a number of committee members said this effectively meant lowering Lough Ree’s water level, probably by 2ft (0.6m).
James Bannon TD (FG)said the levels in the lake had been increased by about 2ft in 1979 and this had led to flooding and, consequently, to hardship among farmers in the midlands.
He said part of the solution was to open the weir in Athlone and lower Lough Ree to pre-1979 levels. He also said it would be necessary to dredge the channel between Lough Ree and Lough Derg.
Denis Naughten TD (Ind) said it was the committee’s view that some 18,000 acres of Bord Na Móna land north of Lanesborough should be used as a flood plain. He said this could facilitate the plan by Dublin City Council to obtain water from the Shannon.
Mr Naughten said the ESB maintained water levels in Lough Ree at a minimum of 121ft above sea level, and the weir walls in Athlone were at 123ft. He said the problem this summer was that in June the water level in Lough Ree had risen to 124ft.
Dropping the level of Lough Ree would help absorb floods, he added. He said the effect on larger boats may be to restrict their movement in some remote areas of the lake, but he was confident the main navigable areas would remain viable. The interests of all bodies involved would have to be balanced, he said.
Following the release of the report yesterday, the ESB said it would be “supportive in principle” of a Shannon river authority.
It said it “does not store water in Lough Allen or Lough Ree for electricity-generation purposes” but managed the water levels to ensure the safety of dams and embankments as well as maintaining seasonal navigation levels in the main lakes.
It said the fall in level from the outlet of Lough Allen to the outlet of Lough Derg was roughly the height of a two-storey house. “This means that in times of heavy rainfall, rain lodges in low-lying areas of the Shannon and drains away slowly.”
It said it tried to minimise flooding and was involved in the Shannon Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management Study which the OPW is carrying out.
During flood situations at Lough Ree and the callows, the sluice gates at Athlone are closed and no control is exercised over the water level at Lough Ree.
A significant contributor to flooding in the callows following heavy rainfall was large inflow from tributaries downstream of Athlone such as the Suck and Brosna, the ESB said.