Farm Ireland

Monday 11 December 2017

Low-cost solutions to flooding headaches

We spoke to the Tipperary farmers who resolved their flooding issues on a €50,000 budget

Michael O'Connell pictured on his land near Loughmore in Tipperary.
Michael O'Connell pictured on his land near Loughmore in Tipperary.
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Is there any hope for the thousands of farmers plagued with increasingly persistent flooding on their land?

One group of farmers in Tipperary is proof that it is possible to turn the situation around.

In 2014, in the run-up to local elections, a group of landowners farming along the banks of the Suir from Templemore to Loughmore called a meeting.

"We got a great crowd at it, and we had the full attention of all the local county councillors," recalls well-known beef finisher, Frank Mockler.

"The councillors duly passed a motion to send an application to the Office of Public Works (OPW) for funds to tackle the eight mile stretch.

"There was lots of talk of up to €300,000 being required, but we knew that if we pared it back to the essentials, we could do it for closer to €50,000."

In the early part of 2015 the OPW granted the initiative €45,000.

Two diggers duly arrived that July, with farmers along the stretch helping out wherever they could.

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"We got out chainsaws and tackled a lot of the sallys that had grown in every couple of feet.

"We cut the world of timber off that river," explained Michael O'Connell, who milks 80 cows for Centenary Co-op.

He had about 30ac affected by flooding along the river every year, but it was the flooding during the summer that really concerned him.

"I gave up trying to save silage along the river because all it took was one big downpour in May, and the river would break the banks and the grass would be ruined under three foot of water. You couldn't even graze it afterwards because the grass would be soiled," he said.

"A big part of the problem was the fact that the fall was so small in this stretch of the river. It only falls about 11 foot over the course of seven miles.

"But we didn't want the river widened or deepened. All we needed was the debris cleaned out and the banks squared off.

"The digger can't dig out the roots of those trees because the bank could collapse, so we'll have to cut them back again every couple of years.

"One of the diggers just cleared the fallen timber out of the way. The bigger reach one with a special riddle bucket followed.

"The slatted bucket allowed fish and water to escape before it was tipped out on the land.

"There's a huge amount of spoil for us to spread out on the land, but we don't mind doing that - parking that job allowed the council lads to keep moving as fast as possible.

"But it made a big difference this winter. The land still floods, but the water is gone within a few days. I might even chance reseeding the 30ac that is prone to flooding.

"And there was no flooding in the town of Templemore this year," said Mr O'Connell.

Endangered freshwater mollusc that can live to 100

Once the most abundant bivalve mollusc in ancient rivers around the world, numbers of the freshwater pearl mussel are now declining in all countries and this species is nearly extinct in many areas. It can live for over 100 years, but needs very high quality water to survive.

The mussel is highly protected - it has the same status as bats and otters.

"It's made a scapegoat for a lot of things, but the presence of the pearl mussel is really just a great indicator of the health of a river," said An Taisce's Fintan Kelly.

"We are obliged to maintain suitable habitats for it to survive, but doesn't mean that it will dictate national policy on flooding."

Instead of dealing with individual stretches of river in a piecemeal fashion, Mr Kelly believes that Ireland needs an overall strategy to cope with future heavy rainfall events.

"Towns are areas of concentrated economic value, so they are going to get priority. And we can't contain all the water in every river, all of the time - there needs to be natural flood-plains to allow the water time to get to sea.

"Areas that were ploughable 30 years ago were often originally flood plains that were drained to make them drier. While it might be important to individual farmers to get these back into productive land, it may not be the best thing for the country as a whole," he said.

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