Cork flood protection plan needs broader focus, says Dutch expert

Proposal should also include issues such as river access, says Erik Kraaij

Dutch flood expert Erik Kraaij (left) with Sean Antoin O Muiri of the Save Cork City group: Kraaij addressed a public meeting in Cork at the weekend

Dutch flood expert Erik Kraaij (left) with Sean Antoin O Muiri of the Save Cork City group: Kraaij addressed a public meeting in Cork at the weekend

 

The €140 million flood protection plan for Cork may save the city from flooding but Corkonians need to decide whether the plan should also consider issues such as access to the river and capitalising on its potential, according to a leading international flood expert.

Erik Kraaij, deputy director of the National River and Sea Defence Programme in the Netherlands, said he had no doubt the plan proposed by the Office of Public Work (OPW) to build higher walls along the city’s quays would prevent flooding but he questioned the merits of such a narrow objective.

Addressing a public meeting organised by the Save Cork City group attended by about 150 people at UCC at the weekend, Mr Kraaij stressed that not every flood situation is the same and each case should be examined on its individual merits.

Mr Kraaij, whose agency oversees the spending of up to €1 billion annually on flood defences in the Netherlands, said he was familiar with the OPW plans for Cork which involves the raising of quay walls by an average of 1.2m and the construction of more than 40 pumping stations.

“I have seen this system, not in the Netherlands but in Germany, and building walls and using pumping stations can work and it is cost effective, so of course it can be successful from the point of view of flood protection but sometimes a broader discussion is needed,” he said.

“Do you opt for a more integrated approach that looks at how you might use the river banks which in Cork’s case involves some historic quays?”

Integrated approach

Mr Kraaij said similar plans to build protective walls and dykes had led to protests in the Netherlands in the 1970s. While simple flood barrier protection worked in some cases, a more integrated approach where access to waterways had been maintained had also worked well.

“There were protests in the Netherlands in the 1970s over plans just to erect flood barriers but we decided instead to have a more balanced approach which allows access to the waterways – this balance can be better,” Mr Kraaij said.

“We have several centuries’ experiences but equally when we don’t work on our flood defences, it’s over and out within a few decades – that’s the reality so there is more urgency because we have nine million people living below sea level but even allowing for that we always struck a balance.”

Asked about Save Cork City’s alternative proposal to build a tidal barrier at the eastern end of Lough Mahon, Mr Kraaij said that a tidal barrier is an option but it would do little to alleviate fluvial or river flooding, though it could be considered in the context of a more integrated approach.

He broadly agreed with figures provided by UK consultants HR Wallingford in a study for the Save Cork City group that a 950m tidal barrier could be built in Lough Mahon for €140 million in contrast to a cost estimated by consultants for the OPW which put the figure at at least €450 million.