Sunday 15 September 2019

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

OPW warns €835m needed to protect homes, roads, airport

While some €430m has been allocated for flood defences between 2016 and 2021, almost
the entire budget is taken up by the 14 biggest schemes. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
While some €430m has been allocated for flood defences between 2016 and 2021, almost the entire budget is taken up by the 14 biggest schemes. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

The State faces a €3.2bn clean-up bill unless it dramatically ramps up investment in flood defences.

Works to protect almost 26,000 properties in major towns and cities across almost all counties are required, with Shannon International Airport among the key pieces of infrastructure at risk of being swept away.

Homes, businesses, roads, water treatment plants and health centres will be inundated by flood waters unless some €835m is spent over the coming years - almost twice the current budget, the Government has been told.

The Office of Public Works (OPW) forecasts that some 200km of flood defence walls are needed across the country, with some up to three metres high. Some 170 flood defence projects of varying scales are needed.

Investment of €56m is needed in Limerick city to protect almost 1,400 properties, another €9.5m in Galway city to prevent damage to some 900 homes and businesses, some €46m for the capital and more than €150m in Cork city.

Dundalk in Co Louth needs another €40m to prevent damages totalling €135m, with up to 18km of flood defence walls proposed.

OPW Minister Sean Canney. Photo: Tom Burke
OPW Minister Sean Canney. Photo: Tom Burke

The details are contained in 29 Flood Risk Management Plans produced by the OPW following extensive studies and modelling of 6,500km of river and across 90 coastal communities. The plans outline the works needed to protect some 300 at-risk towns and cities if a major flood event arises, while taking into account increased rainfall and rising sea levels projected to occur as climate change takes hold.

The rationale for the schemes is based on the economic cost of protecting properties and assets, and the damages which would occur if nothing was done. On this basis, the damages are estimated between €2.1bn and €3.2bn under a do-nothing scenario.

The warnings come following the devastation wreaked by Storm Desmond, Storm Eva and Storm Frank which struck in the winter of 2015/2016 as global leaders met in Paris to hammer out a long-term deal to combat climate change. Heavy rainfall throughout November resulted in much of the country being fully saturated, so when storms struck there was no capacity to absorb any more water and rivers and streams swelled and burst their banks.

Ireland is at risk of more extreme weather events and increased levels of rainfall as average global temperatures continue to soar. Last year was the hottest globally on record, following years of records being broken, and sea levels are rising.

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

While the State has set aside €430m for flood defences between 2016 and 2021, the analysis suggests that at least €835m will be needed to complete flood defences, flood water storage, channel improvements and flow diversion.

OPW Minister Sean Canney said the finalised plans, which have been subject to more than 500 days of public consultation, would be forwarded to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in the coming weeks for approval.

"People have suffered long and hard over the years. Just because we've had a very kind winter and spring doesn't mean the problem has gone away. We have to get on with it," he said.

While some €430m has been allocated for flood defences between 2016 and 2021, almost the entire budget is taken up by the 14 biggest schemes, with more than €140m needed for Cork city alone.

If the works are not completed, the OPW estimates that damages of almost €170m will arise. Limerick city needs investment of €55m to avoid damages of €58m, and Shannon International Airport, used by 1.6 million passengers a year, requires investment of €40m. If nothing is done, damages totalling €268m are possible.

Irish Independent

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