ESB was warned dams could not cope with flood

Paul Melia and Ralph Riegel

THE ESB was warned in three separate reports that the two strategic Cork reservoirs could be unable to cope with extreme water volumes, the Irish Independent has learned.

Over the past eight years the reports raised issues about water management on the Lee valley in "an extreme weather event" -- including the capacity of the two lakes above the Inniscarra dam to cope with a large inflow of water.

They warned that the presence of the dams and reservoirs meant there was a "false sense of security".

However, the ESB disputed that it would be liable for any insurance claims after making a decision last Friday to release water from the Inniscarra dam.

"The water was released in a controlled way. . . They (the lakes) had unprecedented levels of water. No one has experienced anything like it in living memory," an ESB spokesperson said.


Yet a key ESB report in 2001 warned that the reservoirs at Inniscarra and Carrigadrohid were too small to cope with extreme water volumes.

The report -- from 2001 -- said that although there would be more flooding on the River Lee if the dams were not in place, the "relatively small size" of the reservoirs meant the amount of flood alleviation was reduced for extreme weather events.

"Consequently a false sense of security may occur," it warned.

Last year, the Lee Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management Study Hydrology Report said that water from the Shournagh and Bride rivers flowing into Cork city was not taken into account by ESB engineers when deciding how much water should be released from the dams.

This means that the power company could release massive volumes of water from the dams without knowing how much water was flowing into the Lee from the Shournagh and Bride rivers. The ESB rejected this report and said the water was measured.

The lack of water for hygiene purposes in some parts of Cork city has now raised public health fears of an easier spread of swine flu -- and one emergency worker said it was like "an Irish Hurricane Katrina".

Some parts of the city may now be without mains drinking water until early December -- and the city council acknowledged that sanitation and public health were now matters of "serious concern".

Insurance companies -- now facing claims estimated at up to €300m -- confirmed they were bracing themselves for an avalanche of claims.

One insurance assessor said that issues now arose in Cork over the precise role the ESB played in the flooding with the release of water from Inniscarra dam last Thursday.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen will view the flood damage for himself today in Cork, Clare and Galway, while Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe will visit flood-hit UCC, which is now effectively closed.

Fine Gael environment spokesman Phil Hogan has already demanded an independent inquiry into the cause of the Cork flooding.