News Analysis

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Turning back the tide on flooding is going to take massive effort

Brian Hayes

Published 19/03/2014 | 02:30

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Sandbags were used to keep the water at bay in Waterford during the recent storms. Photo: Patrick Browne
Sandbags were used to keep the water at bay in Waterford during the recent storms. Photo: Patrick Browne

The problem is that when the weather turns and the flooding stops, the media spotlight understandably moves on.

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What is needed is a major national debate on this issue involving all stakeholders. That's why on April 10 in Dublin Castle the Office of Public Works (OPW) are organising a major national conference on meeting the challenges of flooding.

Local authorities, emergency response agencies, government departments and community organisations responded quickly and effectively in dealing with the immediate aftermath of the storms and floods. They deserve our thanks. The next step is repairing the damaged physical infrastructure. Local authorities have the lead role here in assessing the damage and presenting their estimates to government. The Government is providing the necessary funding for emergency relief and infrastructural repair works. Over €70 million has been set aside to deal with the initial repair bill. We have to deliver to those communities that were so badly effected in recent months.

In recent years, storms and flooding events have become a regular feature of our climate. Ireland is not alone in this. We have all seen the devastating storms in Britain this winter; the Atlantic coasts of Spain and Portugal have also been badly hit. Irish Met office figures show that the winter 2013/14 was the wettest on record, with rainfall levels in many locations more than 50pc higher than the long-term average winter rainfall. According to British Met office figures, England and Wales have had their highest winter rainfall levels since 1766. The time has now come to ignore the climate change deniers. The scientific evidence confirming climate change is compelling. We must now accept the reality of climate change and prepare for the likely consequences.

Climate change in Ireland is likely to express itself in more frequent storms, higher rainfall levels and more intense bursts of rainfall. The risk of flooding will increase. The OPW is the lead agency in flood prevention and flood defence management and Ireland has a strategy in place to address Flood Risk Management.

The OPW is working in partnership with local authorities and other stakeholders to deliver on that multifaceted strategy to manage and mitigate flood risk to our communities across the country.

This strategic approach recognises the need, in line with international best practice, to move to a more sustainable, planned and risk-based approach to dealing with flooding problems.

As well as delivering on national policy, the programme will meet the requirements of the EU 'Floods' directive that came into force in November 2007

Our new strategy is well on the way to completion through the catchment-based Flood Risk Assessment and Management Study programme known as CFRAM.

The CFRAM programme is the only way forward because risk assessment and flood defence decisions will be based on empirical evidence. It is a major new departure for the country.

We have had significant successes in recent years in dealing with river flooding with examples in Clonmel, Ennis, Kilkenny – to name but a few. In Dublin, works on the Dodder and the Tolka over the past decade have provided great protection to the city. Other schemes under way this year include, Claregalway, Bandon, Templemore, Bray and Skibbereen. Another 17 schemes are at design stage.

Coastal flooding is a more complex issue. All our big population centres are built on river estuaries and flood plains which leave them vulnerable to a lethal combination of storms, tides and floods. The OPW has had a large measure of success with flood defences in Waterford City.

This summer we will be bringing forward proposals to deal with the very complex issues associated with flood defences in Cork city. Proposals are also at an advanced stage to deal with coastal flooding along the Clontarf coastline at Dublin Bay.

The Government is committing large resources to these flood measures, around a quarter of a billion euro over five years from 2012 to 2016. Last week the president of the European Investment Bank, Werner Hoyer, wrote to the Taoiseach indicating a willingness by the EIB to potentially finance flood defences.

The OPW and the Department of Finance has been asked by the Taoiseach to examine this welcome offer in a positive manner.

Serious planning mistakes were made in the past in allowing development to take place in locations vulnerable to flooding. This has to stop.

We must also be honest and realistic about what we can do. We cannot defend every yard of coastline or every beach; we cannot defend every field. In some locations, the most cost-effective solution may be a tactical retreat. But we must also plan for the future.

The debate about climate change is over. It is happening and we need to develop coping strategies. We must help people who want to help themselves and their property. But all of this must be done in a planned way.

BRIAN HAYES IS MINISTER FOR STATE WITH RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE OPW

Irish Independent

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