Earlier warning flood system could buy time for homeowners

Relocating to higher ground can only be ‘a measure of last resort’, says climate expert

A placard erected by campaign group Afri sits in a flooded field on the Roscommon side of Athlone last week. Photograph: Dave Donnellan

A placard erected by campaign group Afri sits in a flooded field on the Roscommon side of Athlone last week. Photograph: Dave Donnellan

 

A flood forecasting system could give homeowners and businesses along the River Shannon up to two weeks to prepare for flooding, a leading Irish climate change scientist has said.

The Government last month agreed in principle to establish a new weather forecasting system at a cost of €2.5 million to enable a longer-term flood forecasting and warning system.

“At the moment we don’t have a flood forecasting system in place so it is a positive commitment from the Government that they are going to invest in flood forecasting,” Dr Conor Murphy of the Irish Climate Analysis and Research Units, and Geography lecturer at Maynooth University said.

A dedicated hydrology system would allow forecasters to monitor and predict river conditions and flood risks and allow significantly more time to prepare for flood events, Dr Murphy said.

“You can’t avoid flood, and you can’t entirely defend against flooding, but you can do more to prepare for it, and to give people more time to respond and get themselves and their possessions out of the way.”

The hydrology system could have the greatest positive impact for communities along the Shannon he said.

“The Shannon is a slow responding river so with the flood forecasting system you could have a week, or even two weeks to prepare. It does depend on the river catchment... in Wicklow you might only get a little over an hour.”

However, he said in addition to better scientific knowledge about impending floods, more investment was needed in flood defences.

“You can’t prevent flooding from happening but we need to make sure our flood defences are robust and that we invest in the optimum flood defences in the right places.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny in recent days suggested that some households in areas affected by repeat flooding may have to relocate to new homes on higher ground. This could only be “a measure of last resort” Dr Murphy said.

“Where you have one-off housing that is continually flooded, then maybe they could be relocated, but this would be a small level solution and moving people could only be a measure of last resort,” he said.

“The larger problem is that we do have estates and towns that due to a failure of planning are regularly flooded and, while there is no silver bullet to deal with flooding, the optimum solution for high density populations, is investment in flood defences.”