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Wednesday 13 December 2017

Climate scholar urges safeguard of water supply

Daithi O hAnluain

Ensuring adequate water supply is the key adaptation challenge for Ireland. It is particularly urgent because there is no single national authority for water.

"It was interesting during the floods, there were so many groups that could be fingered for the overflow," says Prof John Sweeney, a Maynooth-based climate scholar.

"There is no overarching body at the moment that manages water resources.

"The OPW manages flood damage and the ESB handles power generation, but there is no national water authority."

The second issue he highlights is the regulation of competition for water between urban users, farmers and industry. "In Dublin, if we don't start to do something now then in a decade the water will simply stop running from the taps. We have to bite the bullet on it now. So the urgency is in the strategic planning for those crucial pieces of infrastructure," he said.

The country will also need to study the land's hydrology further to understand in greater detail how climate change will impact water courses and groundwater. When and where are droughts and floods likely? What will be the impact on groundwater?

Groundwater impacts have enormous consequences for some areas. Cork gets 90pc of its water supply from groundwater and if this gets compromised, it takes a generation for it to recover. Water management remains the major issue, but there are many unknowns. How will climate change affect the 'storm tracks' for example? Storm tracks are the routes that storm systems tend to follow, but right now climate science does not know for sure if storms will intensify or become milder.

Storm tracks are defined by the temperature gradient between the equator and the poles. Right now there is a big temperature gradient, but as the poles warm that gradient will decline, possibly leading to less severe storms. On the other hand, increased global temperatures mean more energy is stored in the sea and that energy will potentially be released through more intense storm events. "Which of those two effects will be dominant has not been solved scientifically," noted Prof Sweeney.

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Other unknowns include new pests and diseases. Malaria will likely not be a problem, but other pests and disease may flourish and a team at NUI Maynooth is studying this issue.

Meanwhile, Prof Sweeney believes the response from national governments and supranational bodies are good but local authorities have yet to develop specific climate adaptation plans to guide regional and local planning.

"We have the formulation of the national climate change strategy being undertaken at the moment and hopefully the climate change bill will be passed by the end of the year," he said. "But I'd like to see local authorities making strategic plans for water supply. I'd like to see their planning encourage high quality, sustainable housing and discourage car-dependent commuter developments."

Irish Independent



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