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Thursday 18 September 2014

More floods as heavy rain hammers West

Alan O'Keeffe

Published 02/02/2014 | 02:30

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1/2/14

A local man and his horse ferries people in and out of Saint Marys Park in Limerick after the River Shannon burst its banks in Limerick City in another wave of storms to hit the city. Pic Sean Curtin.
A local man and his horse ferries people in and out of Saint Marys Park in Limerick after the River Shannon burst its banks in Limerick City in another wave of storms to hit the city. Pic Sean Curtin.

Fears and flood waters were rising in south Galway and the Shannon Callows as heavy rains drenched the west this weekend.

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Anxious farmers eyed relentless rainclouds and worried for their livestock and homes as river levels continued to rise.

"I'm watching the River Shannon rise. It's already a mile wide at Banagher Bridge," said worried farmer Michael Silke (56).

He lives within a mile of the bridge on the Co Galway side of the swelling giant. "The river's burst its banks. It's a sea of water. I've more than 100 acres of the finest land under three feet of water. There's thousands of hectares underwater along the Shannon between Lough Ree and Lough Derg," he said.

Rivers in South Galway that flow into the Atlantic have also been rising as rainwaters rush down the slopes of the Slieve Aughty Mountains. These rainwaters flow into a giant saucer of water-logged land with no way out, he warned.

On Friday, he said: "The rain is bucketing down all day. If it continues, the situation will be very bad, very serious. There's a danger it could yet reach 2009 levels, which was a catastrophe for farmers."

Winter flooding is frequent in the region but in 2009 large numbers of livestock were inundated with flood waters in their wintering sheds. Large scale movements of animals were necessary with many sent into neighbouring counties. Dozens of homes were flooded then and local people fear a repeat in the coming days.

"We were told in 2009 it was a once-in-a-150 years event but the winter floods were bad again in 2012. Yet no action was taken. People are fearful again and they're furious," he said.

He pointed out that for every inch of rain that falls in winter, the level of the Shannon can rise by several inches over a few days. This week's heavy rains have heightened fears. He claimed dredging of the Shannon and other rivers in the flood-hit regions was urgently needed as they were clogged up with debris, old vegetation and silt.

Routine clearing of channels is needed. Yet the authorities fail repeatedly to respond to such recommendations, he said.

Mr Silke, formerly an active farmers' spokesman on flood problems, has taken these concerns to meetings of Oireachtas committees. "But reports after reports are ignored," he declared.

He rejects arguments that anti-flood works in some areas would not be deemed value for money in a cost-benefit analysis. "How can you put a cost-benefit on human suffering?" he asked.

Yet another report is nearing completion this year but he and the rest of the farming communities have run out of patience and want immediate action to kickstart a continuous river maintenance programme to alleviate flooding.

He believes the Government and Office of Public Works Minister, Brian Hayes, should be ashamed at the lack of any major work on local rivers, except for some 'minor' clearance work at Meelick Weir, in recent years.

"In fact, no worthwhile work has been done on the Shannon since the foundation of the State. At least under British rule, the river was kept in pristine condition," he said.

His own fields along the Shannon were popular haunts for British and European anglers but the persistent flooding and build-up of riverbed silt in recent years have made it much less attractive for anglers, he claimed.

Worsening floods in recent years have also devastated some wild bird numbers as their nests were washed away in summer floods.

"The Shannon at Banagher Bridge today is six feet higher than the normal summertime navigational level. It's rising three inches a day. If it rises another nine to 12 inches, it'll be as bad as the 2009 catastrophe," he warned.

Irish Independent

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