Athlone could be protected from flooding for just €5m

Prevention measures proposed for 300 flooding ‘hot spots’

Conor Pope visits the Strand area beside the river Shannon in Athlone where local residents are just about keeping flood waters at bay using pumps and sandbags. Video: Bryan O'Brien


The town most affected by this month’s flooding could be protected at a fraction of the cost of other flood prevention schemes, according to initial estimates.

The Office of Public Works (OPW) is examining flood prevention measures, provisionally estimated at between €5 million and €6 million, to address the problem in Athlone, Co Westmeath.

While detailed costings have yet to be finalised, the projected bill would be a fraction of the cost of a number of recently-completed projects, such as the €40 million spent on flood defences in Clonmel, Co Tipperary.

Proposals for Athlone will be included in suggestions for 300 so-called flood “hot spots” identified around the country under the Cfram (Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management) programme, and which are about to go through the final phases of public consultation.

The hot spots emerged following a national assessment to identify areas of potentially significant flood risk completed by the OPW in March 2012. It has been implementing a 2007 EU directive requiring states to carry out flood-risk assessments to identify areas of existing flooding or those at significant risk in the future.

From these, 300 flood hot spots were identified. Each has since been further assessed and solutions – prioritised according to the level of risk – are at an advanced stage of preparation. Research to date has meant surveying 6,500km of river and taking 50,000 cross-sections. About 10,000sq km of land have been surveyed from the air.

Public consultations

Flood risk maps, showing the effects of flooding to various depths, were produced. Some public consultations have already taken place but further rounds will be held this summer and autumn, and action plans finalised by the end of the year.

“That will set out, in 29 plans covering the country and addressing the flood risk in these 300 areas, what we are proposing to do,” said Mark Adamson, who is managing the Cfram programme in the OPW. “There will be areas where a structural flood protection scheme is not viable.

There is one potentially viable for Athlone but there will be some where there won’t be a potentially viable structural flood protection scheme and that’s where we’re looking at the other pillars of flood risk management – prevention and preparedness measures.”

Detailed costings for the Athlone measures have yet to be finalised but he estimated “it is going to be approximately €5 million or slightly more; it’s not huge”. This compares to other major schemes costing up to €40 million which have been successful elsewhere.

Flood maps A first round of public consultation was held in Athlone on the flood maps and a second event was held just before the current flooding. Further consultation is scheduled.

“For the last number of months, since the draft maps have been produced, we been going through the process of looking at what are the potential solutions, and we’ve been having a second round of public consultation days,” said Mr Adamson.

“[That involves] going out with our initial ideas, and then we appraise them and look at them in purely economic terms, and then also using a multicriteria analysis [examining benefits for areas like transport, amenity and employment] and identify what could be the preferred option.

“We understand that it is very frustrating for people to see the process, to their eyes, sort of grind along. But it does take, from first conception to construction, typically five to seven years for a flood relief scheme to be built.

“We need to make sure that what we do is going to solve the problem and that does take a significant amount of analysis.”

The proof of the pudding is that major projects that have already been undertaken have worked.

“The schemes at Mallow, Fermoy, Clonmel, Carrick-on-Suir, Waterford, Carlow, Ennis and Kilkenny were tested by very high flows in the recent floods - in some cases, the highest levels on record,” said Mr Adamson.

“The scheme at Carrick-on-Suir was ultimately designed and built to a 50-year standard of protection [that is a once-in-50 years likelihood of flooding], as the community considered that the initially designed defences to the normal 100-year standard were too high. As a result, some flooding did occur in Carrick-on-Suir.

“All of the other above schemes, however, performed well, with only a handful of properties flooding in some of these scheme areas, out of the many hundreds of properties protected, due to local issues, that are now being investigated.”