Thursday 18 January 2018

Dozens of towns will never get protection from floods because sums do not add up

Business owner Alison McArdle at her café Cupán Tae on Quay Lane, which has been flooded many times. Photo: Andrew Downes
Business owner Alison McArdle at her café Cupán Tae on Quay Lane, which has been flooded many times. Photo: Andrew Downes
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

One-in-five flood relief schemes may never go ahead because they don't stack up financially.

Almost 1,900 homes in large towns and cities could be at risk of being swamped by flood waters because the cost of protection cannot be justified on economic grounds alone.

Click to view full size graphic
Click to view full size graphic

An analysis of flood defence plans from the Office of Public Works (OPW) reveals that the cost of completing schemes in areas including Galway, Navan, Cavan, Portlaoise, Cobh and Celbridge in Kildare is more than the cost of the damages that might arise in a severe flood.

The schemes will have to be revised, or local protection measures completed by local authorities under the minor works programme implemented to protect communities.

Yesterday, the Irish Independent revealed that the State faces a €3.2bn clean-up bill unless it dramatically ramps up investment in flood defences.

Works to protect roads, water treatment plants and other essential infrastructure, along with almost 26,000 properties in major towns and cities, are needed. The cost of completing the works is put at €835m - almost double the current budget.

The OPW says around 170 relief schemes are needed across the country, but 28 have a cost-benefit ratio of less than one.

Read more: Shannon Airport at risk of being 'swept away' as State could face €3.2bn flood clean-up bill

This means that the cost of completing works is more than the economic cost of replacing properties that would be destroyed in a worst-case scenario.

In Galway City, the cost of completing works is put at €9.5m. But if a severe flood struck, the costs of repairing the damage would be substantially less at €8.2m.

Flood Defence Works Interactive Map

This tool sets out the cost of installing flood defences, the damages which might arise and number of properties under threat, in the most at-risk areas across the State.

It is based on data from the draft Flood Risk Management Plans, produced by the Office of Public Works (OPW), following extensive surveys of 90 coastal communities, and more than 6,500kms of river channel.

The country is divided into 29 Units of Management (UoMs), which are areas covered by a single river basin or covered by a group of smaller rivers. Given its size, works required along the Shannon are set out in three UoM.

Clicking on the icons show the works required in each area.

The urban area is highlighted at the top, and the UoM beneath. The cost of proposed works is set out in €m. The ‘damage uncapped’ figure relates to the total cost of damages to properties and infrastructure which would arise if nothing was done.

The ‘damage’ figure is based on the value of the properties at risk. This figure is used to determine if a scheme should go ahead – if the cost of the damage is less than the cost of providing defences, the scheme may not go ahead. This is the cost-benefit ratio. If it’s less than one, the scheme doesn’t make financial sense.

The final figure is the number of properties protected.

Some icons contain less information. For example, Tullig in Kerry is part of the Castleisland flood defence scheme so no information is contained. The OPW has also identified other areas as being at low risk, or says the existing flood defence regime should be maintained. In other cases it notes the need for a forecasting system, or says if a scheme is underway.

Further information is at

If the works don't go ahead, some 890 properties could be at risk. The cost of completing works in Cobh is €2.5m, but the damages would amount to €2.1m. Sources said that in cases where the finances didn't stack up, the schemes could not proceed.

"We can't progress these schemes," one said. "We would take these aside and look at them again. Where the schemes are very close to one but just below, on closer review these costs can be reduced. Those schemes have been noted, but we would need to do a cost review."

The overall cost of the works required in the 29 areas totals almost €79m. The damages which might arise come to €61.8m.

A total of 1,883 properties are at risk, ranging from 890 in Galway to two in Coolaney, Co Sligo.

Flood relief works are designed not just to protect homes, but also transport links, water treatment plants and other essential infrastructure.

The situation is complicated by the fact that many of these towns are projected to see substantial population increases over the coming years, and will need protection to protect commercial cores.

Read more - Paul Melia: Storms will only get worse - and we may have to abandon parts of country

If the schemes are dropped, options include protection for individual properties, completing minor works costing less than €500,000, which could be carried out by the local authority, or in a worst-case scenario a voluntary relocation scheme.

While the flood defence plans completed by the OPW are based on a one-in-100-year flood event, or an event which has a 1pc chance of occurring in a given year, in major urban areas consideration could be given to more expensive schemes which provide a greater level of protection.

"For Galway, for the 100-year ratio it's below one," a source said. "But if you take standard protection up to a one-in-1,000-year event, because you're protecting so much more property you're getting greater benefits.

"We would look to examine the costs to see if a higher standard of protection might be available," a source said.

'Perfect storm' will cause havoc for businesses again if nothing is done

RTÉ's Teresa Mannion's weather report from Salthill in 2015 gave the nation a taste of the devastating damage from storms and flood waters hitting Galway.

But for many living in the City of the Tribes, it is a reoccurring reality.

Residents and businesses across the most vulnerable parts of the city, including Flood Street and Quay Lane, are often warned to brace themselves for high tides spilling into the streets.

Alison McArdle owner of the Cupán Tae tearooms, says that once flood waters rush into the area, no business can escape the devastation.

Located on Quay Lane by the River Corrib, Ms McArdle set up her café six years ago, but was unable to get insurance due to the high risk of flooding.

"If one business gets flooded around here, then we all do. We moved in knowing the risks, but were reassured that the premises had not been seriously flooded in 10 years," she said.

But in 2014, Cupán Tae suffered three days of flooding due to a combination of high tides and heavy rainfall.

"We lost a huge amount of stock, including hundreds of kilos of tea leaves. All of our electrics broke and everything at ground level was ruined. We had to close only for a couple of days, but luckily we got back in business pretty quickly.

"We just want the council to react immediately when things like this happen, which wasn't the case in 2014."

The Office of Public Works (OPW) said that defences to protect Galway City and Salthill would cost some €9.5m to install, and protect 890 properties.

Read more: 'We were millimetres from disaster... we were very lucky'

The problem is these figures don't stack up. In order for the scheme to be viable, the overall budget has to be substantially more than the cost of the estimated damage. Damages are put at €8.2m if nothing is done.

Options for flood prevention measures include quay defence walls and embankments along Long Walk, Spanish Arch and the Claddagh, some up to 1.2m high. Defences along the Dyke Road need to be strengthened to protect the city's water supply, and works are also needed on the Eglington Canal.

In Salthill, rock armour is proposed. Some roads may need to be raised including the Grattan Road.

The city council said that bespoke and more expensive flood wall finishes and approaches "would be desirable in the protected conservation areas". These include glass-panelled flood-retaining walls and self-closing barriers, but this would increase costs and could "limit the potential" for OPW funding.

Niall McNelis, who owns Claddagh and Celtic Jewellery on Quay Lane, described 2014's flooding as "the perfect storm".

"Everything went against us - spring tides, low temperatures and high winds," the Galway City Councillor said. "The sheer volume of the water that came through our doors destroyed all of our electrics and floor stock.

"We were flooded three times in the past and when I saw the waters come through our doors in 2014 I remember saying to myself, 'Here we go again'.

"Hopefully the new measures will reduce the risk of flooding in our community, but I agree we definitely need better communication from the council."

Irish Independent

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