Thursday 19 October 2017

Paul Melia: Storms will only get worse - and we may have to abandon parts of country

A member of the fire service takes a short break as flooding continues in Bandon, Co. Cork, following storm Frank. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
A member of the fire service takes a short break as flooding continues in Bandon, Co. Cork, following storm Frank. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

We only need cast our minds back to the winter of 2015/2016 to recall the devastation caused by flooding, the worst on record.

The first towns were hit in mid-December, and the last almost two months later. More than 35 rivers recorded the highest floods on record during the period. Some towns were hit twice, including Bandon in Cork, Montpelier in Limerick and Galway city. Others, including Athlone, Shannonbridge, Portumna and Castleconnell, were in a state of sustained flood emergency for almost two months.

Without the efforts of emergency services, local authorities and other arms of the State, a great many more homes and businesses would have been affected and lives lost.

But even still, the damage was devastating. Fields were left underwater for months. Homes and property were destroyed, with 600 evacuated and 2,400 cut off by rising waters, and 606 businesses flooded. Roads were ruined, and overflowing sewers spewed onto streets.

The cost of repairing infrastructure was estimated at more than €100m. The insurance industry paid out an additional €70m following storms Abigail, Desmond and Frank. It has spent €940m settling claims since 2000.

Flooding is nothing new, but what has changed is the intensity of the storms and increased levels of rainfall.

With climate change, it will only get worse, and we may be forced to abandon some parts of the country.

Today, in the first part of a three-day series outlining the scale of works needed to protect our communities, the Irish Independent speaks to people in built-up areas at risk of flooding.

We outline the scale of the works required, and look at urban areas where the costs of completing works don't stack up. Installing flood defences will be more expensive than the economic losses which might arise, and this will require innovative thinking.

Throughout the series, we will speak to people in at-risk towns, and also look at 'soft' engineering solutions which use natural methods employed in other countries to protect property and people, and wildlife.

Flood Defence Works Interactive Map

This tool sets out the cost of installing flood defences, the damages which might arise and number of properties under threat, in the most at-risk areas across the State.

It is based on data from the draft Flood Risk Management Plans, produced by the Office of Public Works (OPW), following extensive surveys of 90 coastal communities, and more than 6,500kms of river channel.

The country is divided into 29 Units of Management (UoMs), which are areas covered by a single river basin or covered by a group of smaller rivers. Given its size, works required along the Shannon are set out in three UoM.

Clicking on the icons show the works required in each area.

The urban area is highlighted at the top, and the UoM beneath. The cost of proposed works is set out in €m. The ‘damage uncapped’ figure relates to the total cost of damages to properties and infrastructure which would arise if nothing was done.

The ‘damage’ figure is based on the value of the properties at risk. This figure is used to determine if a scheme should go ahead – if the cost of the damage is less than the cost of providing defences, the scheme may not go ahead. This is the cost-benefit ratio. If it’s less than one, the scheme doesn’t make financial sense.

The final figure is the number of properties protected.

Some icons contain less information. For example, Tullig in Kerry is part of the Castleisland flood defence scheme so no information is contained. The OPW has also identified other areas as being at low risk, or says the existing flood defence regime should be maintained. In other cases it notes the need for a forecasting system, or says if a scheme is underway.

Further information is at http://maps.opw.ie/floodplans/


Finally, an online tool at independent.ie/flooding will allow you to see the cost of defences required in your area. The series concludes on Wednesday.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News