Irish Times view on flooding prevention in the Shannon catchment
Realism needed about what is financially and ecologically feasible
All across Europe, measures are being taken to retain and slow down water flows from upland areas to avoid downstream urban flooding. Above, flooding along the banks of the Shannon near Athlone in 2015. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
More intense winter rainfall events as a result of global warming practically guarantee that flooding of the Shannon catchment region will continue. All the State can do is take steps to minimise urban and rural damage and – with regret – purchase and abandon homes where the cost of protection would be unrealistic. A 10-year programme by the Office of Public Works has identified 34 flood-relief schemes along the river and progress is being made in building flood defences, managing water levels and removing flow obstacles. To suggest, however, that all will be well is misleading.
A report from the Minister of State in charge of the OPW Kevin “Boxer” Moran suggested that recent Shannon maintenance work – “the first real scheme since Queen Victoria” – will begin to pay off this winter. The measures being taken will, of course, help to protect some homes. But, given the failure of 19th-century schemes and post-1945 arterial drainage works to prevent flooding, a more thoughtful strategy may be required.
All across Europe, measures are being taken to retain and slow down water flows from upland areas to avoid downstream urban flooding. Building protection walls is part of the process, but soft – rather than hard – engineering solutions are preferred.
The re-establishment of our midland bogs as enormous water sponges and the closure of drains there to prevent river channels silting up would greatly reduce the volume of water released downstream while encouraging biodiversity. The reconnection of river meanders that were severed by old drainage works would have the same effect, as would the use of flood plains and callows as natural overspill reservoirs.
Bad planning allowed housing estates to be built on flood plains and those abuses are coming back to bite us. It will take a fine balancing act to address the concerns of householders and farmers while maintaining a realistic outlook on what is financially and ecologically feasible. Dredging a deeper river channel simply moves the problem elsewhere.