The Irish Times view on flooding around country: Problems downstream
Flooding near Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim, as levels of the River Shannon rose in recent weeks. Photograph: Mark Kelly
Since water flows downhill, the way our rivers behave reflects and responds to all the ways in which we are managing – or mismanaging – our entire watersheds. In this era of climate crisis, that includes the management of the atmosphere. The national and global failure to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions is resulting in extreme weather, dumping rainfall that landscapes much better managed than our own would find hard to absorb.
The flooding we are witnessing in recent days in the wake of Storm Jorge indicates, once again, that we still need to think much more effectively about how we can minimise flooding impacts.
In fairness, much thinking has already been done. Two key pieces of EU legislation, the water framework directive (2000) and the floods directive (2007), have spurred agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Public Works, along with the Local Authority Water Programme, to produce a plethora of river-basin and flood-risk management plans. But we are still far behind on this issue.
A recurring critique of the plans has been their over-reliance on old-fashioned engineering solutions, channelling water between hard barriers. These will protect some areas in the short term, but often only push the problem faster to other areas downstream. In the long term, since water is stronger over time than stone, they will often simply fail.
The Sustainable Water Network, a well-informed environmental coalition, has argued that we should use many more nature-based solutions. These involve holistic catchment and landscape management, from reforesting uplands to restoring wetlands and peatlands as giant sponges along our waterways. Such measures slow down water movement across terrain, and offer many collateral climate and biodiversity benefits.
In some areas, like Fethard in Co Tipperary, citizens’ groups are engaged in direct discussions with the OPW and local authorities on these issues. If we are to minimise damage from the increasing rainfall scientists are predicting, it is essential that voices like these be heard.