No ‘blindingly obvious’ solution to Irish flooding, conference told

Survey finds 16% blame Government for mismanaging emergency response

More than 40 per cent of people blame building on flood plains as the main cause of homes and property being flooded, a survey carried out for Engineers Ireland has found.

The iReach survey also found almost one-third, or 32 per cent, believe the consequences of flooding are down to a failure to invest in adequate flood defences. A further 16 per cent say the government is to blame for mismanaging the emergency response. Just 11 per cent believe the State's ageing waterways infrastructure is at fault.

The findings were revealed at the Engineers Week 2016 forum, Engineering Solutions to Flooding, which concentrated on the past winter's flooding and what engineering could do to help alleviate the problem.

A panel discussion, moderated by broadcaster Pat Kenny, included Bill Grimson, president of Engineers Ireland, Tony Smyth, chief engineer at the Office of Public Works, and David Porter, chief executive of the Rivers Agency in Northern Ireland.


The survey found that consequent on the recent floods, 44 per cent of drivers feel unsafe crossing bridges, and almost all think the government should prioritise a nationwide road and bridge construction and repair programme as part of its infrastructure planning.

Almost three in five, or 58 per cent, believe the best way to ensure cover for people affected by floods is for the State to establish its own insurance fund for high-risk areas.

Huge lake

Mr Grimson said it was no “blindingly obvious” solution to the problem of flooding but one interesting notion for Shannon flooding was to facilitate the temporary, seasonal creation of a huge lake - the opposite of a floor plain - that could fill and empty, holding flood water as and when water levels rose.

It would be, he said, “an empty lake in normal circumstances but can be filled and used in times of too much water”.

Building an embankment the length of the Shannon was not practical, he suggested.

“I don’t think we can afford the solution like they have in the United States with the Mississippi where you have levees over hundreds and hundreds of miles.”

Mr Smyth said a problem in the past had been a lack of information for planners. But flood maps created in the Cfram flood risk management programme under the EU floods directive now meant such information was available.

David Porter cautioned against seeing a single national agency as the solution to the problem of flooding. In Northern Ireland, his agency was responsible for maintaining water courses and sea defences but urban drainage was the responsibility of Northern Ireland Water.

A single agency was a nice idea but may be impractical, he said. He felt that in the North, the authorities had the EU directive “licked” in terms of access to data and understanding areas at risk of flooding.

The challenge now was spreading understanding among the public.

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh is a contributor to The Irish Times