Review of Shannon levels urged

Thu, Jul 19, 2012, 01:00

A report on the problem of summer flooding in the Shannon has called for an urgent review of ESB-maintained water levels in the river and its lakes.

The plan, unveiled this afternoon by the Oireachtas Committee on the Environment, calls for overall control of the water levels to be transferred from the ESB to the Office of Public Works.

It also proposes "desilting" or dredging the river between Meelick, Co Glaway, and Banagher Co Offaly.

While the report only calls for a review of the “statutory and operational levels” of the river, a number of committee members said this means lowering water levels in Lough Ree, possibly by as much as two feet.

James Bannon TD said the levels in Lough Ree had been raised in 1979 by two feet and this had led to flooding and hardship among farmers in the midlands. He said the solution was to "open the gates” at the weir in Athlone and lower the levels of 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 said it was the committee’s view that some 18,000 acres of Bord Na Móna land that was “surplus to requirements” north or Lanesborough should be used as a flood plain. He said this could facilitate the plan by Dublin City Council to abstract water from the Shannon.

Mr Naughten said the ESB maintained water levels in Lough Ree at a minimum of 121 feet, while the weir walls in Athlone were at 123 feet. But he said the problem this summer was that in June this year the water levels in Lough Ree had risen to 124 feet.

Mr Naughten said dropping the level of Lough Ree by would help absorb floods but it was for the review to determine how much the level should reduce. He said the affect on larger boats may be to restrict their movement in some very remote areas of Lough Ree, but he was confident the navigation would remain viable. “A balance between the needs of the boat owners and others would need to be set” he said.

Committee chairman Ciaran Lynch called on Minister for Environment Phil Hogan to take immediate steps to act on the report.

The eight recommendations in the report are:

Appoint the OPW as the lead authority with overall responsibility for managing flood risk

Maintain the river system so any build up of silt or blockages are quickly removed

The OPW to engage in local consultation

Maintain appropriate water levels

Remove silt beginning with the area between Lough Ree and Lough Derg

Put flood warnings in place

Utilise boglands to attenuate water from the system when necessary

Protect the corncrake and other wading birds which have been affected by flooding.