Unpopular decisions needed to ensure effective, long-term flood alleviation

As the British government found – after spending billions of pounds on town and city defences – it is not possible to control vast amounts of water

 

Anyone who has experienced a flooding event knows how awful it can be in psychological terms because of the damage caused to structures and furnishings and the uncertain threat of future events. For those whose homes have been flooded on a number of occasions in recent years and for whom little can be done in terms of protection, the situation is truly appalling. They require significant support from the State. But the nature of that support should be based on comprehensive long-term planning.

Global warming has created unprecedented weather events, including floods across the world. What were 100-year events now recur within a few years. According to experts, weather patterns will become more extreme. That is why traditional, ‘hard engineering’ responses are no longer appropriate.

Of course, flood defences will give protection in some urban areas. And special funding should be made available to individuals in distress. But official recognition that flooding cannot be addressed without the establishment of ‘soft engineering projects’ that retain water and allow for slow release is required.

As the Green Party has said, a catchment management approach to flood alleviation could in the long term provide a more cost effective and ecologically sound alternative to stand alone flood defence schemes in urban centres. Relocation of people and businesses may also be necessary.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, and Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley from the Lower Shannon area, have highlighted the possibility of re-housing flood-prone families. That is what long-term, sustainable planning will entail. As the British government found – after spending billions of pounds on town and city defences – it is not possible to control vast amounts of water.

December was a desperate month for rainfall, breaking all records. It may take weeks for levels to fall and the forecast is for further rain that may bring additional misery. In mid-December, the Government announced special financial assistance for individuals and businesses affected by flooding and it is likely to expand that programme when it meets today. It will also consider the estimated cost of repairing damaged roads and infrastructure, while providing for local authority assistance and associated clean up costs.

Sixty-six areas are at risk along the Shannon alone, not to mention flood plains that adjoin major rivers. Dredging could worsen the situation for communities downstream while inappropriate development creates pinch-points that cause flooding upstream.

Proper long-term planning and risk assessments are vital. Spending vast amounts of money to defend against known rainfall patterns makes no sense. Unpopular decisions are required. Certain areas should be designated for afforestation or winter flooding, with appropriate compensation for farmers.

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