Derrybrien Windfarm – Government and ESB treating us like fools

.. guess who will be footing this bill when the EU Court comes back? Yep! That would be us the tax payers – This latest bumbling .. happened on the 1st April and our Government is making us all look like April fools…

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eugh

There is a very recent update that happened last Monday (1st April 2019) in Luxembourg related to the Derrybrien Windfarm situation. Just in case you haven’t heard of what’s happened to date, here is a quick recap;

  • In 2003, without doing a proper Environmental Impact Analysis for a massive Windfarm on the Slieve Aughty Mountains – the mountain top was clear-felled of 200 Hectares of forestry, over 17km of roads were constructed and 71 turbine bases were constructed, leading to local disaster of a significant landslide.  In order to mitigate against further landslides developers imlemented a ‘robust’ drainage scheme and dug up to 30km of deep drains into the mountain top to keep it dry.
  • In 2008, the European Court of Justice highlighted that Ireland failed to ensure that work on projects that might require an environmental impact assessment (EIA) did not start before the necessary checks or studies are carried out.  The Irish authorities agreed to undertake an EIA to look in detail at further potential issues
  • In 2010, The European Commission issued a final warning over breaches of environmental law.
  • In 2017, the South Galway Flood Relief Committee visited the European Commission in Brussels to highlight our concern about the impact that this robust drainage scheme had on flooding in South Galway.  We highlighted lack of any progress or community involvement on the part of the Windfarm owners (ESB)
  • In Jan 2018, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issued a statement which indicated that Ireland would face fines of almost €2m.  The court stated that even at this late stage, a full EIA must be conducted, which must include full consultation with residents, industry and other relevant stakeholders. The wind farm would then be obliged to take whatever “mitigation” measures and remedial work that such a report recommends. While Ireland had agreed to this back in 2008, the commission says Ireland has not honored part of the 2008 judgment requiring a full EIA.

That leads up to last Monday when the CJEU met in Luxembourg on the case.   The full contingent of Judges (15) were there to listen to Ireland’s progress since January last year.

eugh

You can only imagine the update from Ireland – Zilch.  There had been a series of questions sent in advance, but these were then not really followed because Ireland conceded on the day that the developer would now go through the substitute consent process although we didn’t seem to know how we were going to do this.  (Use section 177B or 177C of the Act)

Martin Collins from Derrybrien, was in attendance and he say that our representatives (Mr Connolly was the Counsel for Ireland) did us no favors in front of the judges.

“There was no indication of progress or even clarity of how we proposed to progress.  There was a strong sense of frustration from the judges that Ireland continues to ignore these harsh warnings.”, said Martin.

The court was also not at all pleased with the fact that Ireland had not acted to implement the earlier judgment and there was quite some disbelief that Ireland could/would not act more decisively against a 95% state owned company.

The irony of the fact that Ireland could not act against a 95% state-owner company is that the Minister for the Environment is also Minister for the ‘ESB’ 🙂  – That’s Minister Richard Bruton since 11 October 2018 (formally Denis Naughten)

In summary, Ireland has clearly ignored their commitment for 11 years and in recent years the warnings have ratcheted up. The threat is €2 million in fines and €12,000 a day until we fix this and last Monday we came to the party unprepared.

The Windfarm developers (ESB) caused the landslide, they were found out by our European Courts and Ireland was slapped with a court order to reassess the Environmental Impacts and put in proper mitigations. Instead of our Minister of Environment doing the right thing and being proactive on this and getting ESB to play ball – we’ve been playing a bullet-dodging game with the European Courts. This is all within Minister Bruton’s call but we’re bumbling it up.

The Advocate General’s opinion is due out on 13 June 2019 and the judgment will then follow at some time before the end of this year – and it’s not looking too positive.

In the meantime 200 Hectares of clear-felling and 30km of 8ft deep drains promote rapid run-off of water downhill into South Galway – we want to know what the impact is an what they are going to do to help the South Galway communities in our efforts to get a flood relief solution.   For Derrybrien , the Derrybrien Development Society wants the same answers to understand the impacts of European’s biggest windfarm in their back yard and how they will mitigate against disasters like we had in 2003.

And guess who will be footing this bill when the EU Court comes back? Yep! That would be us the tax payers – This latest bumbling happened on the 1st April and our Government is making us all look like April fools.

-David Murray

For More info please read previous articles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sequel – What do you expect … when you built on a flood plain (2)

In 8th January 2016,  I formed this blog because of my frustration with lack of understanding of our situation in South Galway from some comments on my South Galway Floods Facebook page. I wrote What do you expect … when you built on a flood plain?  in about 30 minutes in response to comments of the same name, published it and it had over 5000 reads within 24 hours.   It highlighted that there were homes 200 years old that were flooding for the first time and that the builders of this didn’t build on a flood plain. However through the mismanagement of the Slieve Aughty mountains, land reclamation and other factors have now added flood risk to areas which weren’t initially prone to flooding.

The sentiment at the time is that some local authorities where granting planning permission in areas that were liable to flooding.   There’s a recent development starting in Gort that has some people worried that they are building on a flood plain so lets take a very quick look at this.   The site in question is Ballyhugh and is a substantial development comprising of :

  1. 132  houses
    • 5  x single storey detached houses,
    • 8 x  detached 2 storey houses,
    • 30 x 2 storey semi detached houses,
    • 50  x storey semi-detached houses,
    • 39 x 3 storey terraced houses.
  2. 6 x 2 bed apartments/creche /2 no. shop units in a 3 storey block.
  3.  All associated site development works to include car parking, riverside walk/access, playground and amenity areas, roads, paths and boundaries/landscaping.
  4. All associated services

This is substantial development and it’s great to see this level of investment in development in Gort. My question – how have they considered flooding?

ballyhugh.JPG

If we superimpose CFRAM maps (flood-risk management maps) from the Gort Local Area Plan 2013-2019,  we get the following approximation.

ballyhugh1.JPG

This flooding extent seems to be a 23.5-24.2m contour and if we not look at these contours in relation to the proposal we get this:

ballyhugh2.JPG
Approximate overlay of CFRAM 1:100 flood extent contour on development land.

Now that looks real bad! However, it’s not as bad as that though.   That flood level is a 1 in a 100 year flood extent (happens on average once every 100 years) and it’s against the existing ground level.  The development plans include raising the new ground level as shown in the diagram below.

ballyhugh3

So, in theory, this is on paper looks fine. This is a 1:100 year flood extent and finished floor level there could be approx 15-20  houses is about 1m above this extent, which again, seems reasonable.     However, these flood extents are approximate and as we know the complexity of the hydrology of South Galway makes these numbers less accurate.

What concerns me is that while the developers did an initial flood risk assessment as a request for information – it didn’t seem trigger anything within OPW when it was first applied for.  This assessment was pretty thorough and was completed in March 2009 and gave some extent information as shown here.

cfram

It also gave the recommendation that Minimum floor levels should be 25m ~about 1m above predicted extent – this was in line with OPW recommendations at the time of 500mm-600mm.

In 2014, planning permission extensions were sought and approved but again, these didn’t trigger any flooding risk (floodmaps.ie, Galway Co Co Flood Data  and OSI ‘Liable to flooding’ areas )  despite the significant Winter 2009 flooding and the more recently developed CFRAM Maps (part of the Gort Local Area Plan 2013-2019)

ballyhugh4.JPG

In fact we can see here in Winter 2009 water gathering on the site opposite St Colman’s Park in the proposed development site.

ballyhugh5.JPG

Another factor is that as this development is raising land around a river bed, will it have an impact – yes – the 2009 analysis said that 1625m3 would be displaced but was not deemed significant (about 48 seconds worth of peak flow) .  Maybe in the overall catchment this is deemed negligible but when downstream is given responsibility for taking up this and increased flows through Gort and other areas – they all add up but who is actually adding all of these up? It’s flooding by a 1000 cuts.

This kind of development is good for Gort and South Galway and from a flood risk perspective,  it does seem to still have a 1m buffer zone which is portrayed as enough –  but is this realistic? We should get more realistic flood relief extents at the end of the South Galway/Gort Lowlands Flood Relief feasibility study (End of 2019) and it will be interesting to see if this impacts on on the flood risk of this proposed development.

Hopefully not.

David Murray

Note : The Information on more recent CFRAM flood extent contours are approximate

 

South Galway unlikely to dodge another major flood

watefall

It’s been over 3 years now since South Galway got ravaged by severe flooding and people are wondering if and when a flood relief solution is forthcoming.  We are hearing of more delays in the project that will inevitably mean that the risk of getting a major flood event in South Galway is more likely.  This is not prophet-of-doom dramatics but a simple statistical probability given the weather events in the past 3 decades combined with these delays.   What were some of the reasons for the delays? What is the new timeline?   How can our solution providers (Galway County Council and OPW) be more proactive in reducing timelines and risks?

Understanding the Beast

We have had flooding report after flooding report in South Galway over the past 3 decades that was not able to draw any real conclusions because the underground network and overground  flooding were not well understood.  This is a very complex beast and to understand it you need a healthy mix of expertise and data.    The key ingredients to understanding the flooding dynamics and solutions are:

  • Get historical Turlough levels and rainfall events to understand the underground connectivity.
  • Get a detailed overground topography of South Galway
  • Predicted rainfall for the future

Once you have this data, you need the expertise to be able to make sense of this. This expertise is like looking at a spike in a Turlough level like a heart-beat and then listening for a pulse in a series of other downstream Turloughs. The strength of that pulse and its delay (or latency)  over hours or days will help build a picture of the underground network which can then be modeled as set of channels with different capacities.

blackrock3
Example of Turlough Monitoring (Source : TCD)

To get the accuracy here, this data needs to be collected over several years.  There have been several Turloughs monitored over the past 10 years but not enough to build up an accurate picture.   Since 2016 GSI have added a large amount of monitors to help get a better picture but again without having peak events, it can be difficult to get accuracy required.  GSI was also able to hook into an EU project called Copernicus that took Satellite photos which takes ( 4  photos every 6 days) and has been doing this for the past 6 years across the entire country. These images are being analysed by experts to get approximate the Turlough boundaries. The accuracy is 10m but it can be possible to get accuracy by averaging the boundary.  With the topography data is it is therefore possible to get very good accuracy of the change in Turlough Volumes – which is essential for the Catchment Model.

For the topography maps, South Galway has (Mostly) been scanned by LIDAR which gives a model of the region down to very fine accuracy/granularity (=> a few inches).  This can be used to really understand equating changes in Turlough levels to changes in Volume. It can also be used to understand the Turlough overflows and potential path of water.

lidar
Example of LIDAR detailed topology data : Source : GSI

 

Building a model

All of this information is analysed by Trinity College to produce a hydrology model of South Galway. Unfortunately, this is not an easy beast to get right and this has been the main part of the delay. This model was supposed to be ready within a specific time period and to be used by Ryan Hanley but it’s probably taken an extra year to get this to a level of accuracy and calibration that was needed.  With historical rainfall , the model can be validated to see how accurate it is compared to the real turlough levels (Caherglassaun below estimates the 2015/2016 flooding response to within 0.1% accuracy.

caherglassuan_Calibration

Getting to grips with this beast is the most important part of any flood relief project and that is essentially the main bulk of the work over the past 2 years.

We are not done yet because the hydrology model is only used to simulate the catchment response to rainfall. For our Flood Relief process we need to understand the works kinds of floods that we would get on average over 100 years. This is straightforward for a river system but this is a very unique for this kind of project/area.  TCD has proposed categorizing  flood risks limits according to Turlough boundaries  but these are new concepts and the OPW Design section  needs to have accept these as standards – which again could cost a delay.

So, the getting the model to the level of accuracy needed and developing new ground-breaking concepts all bodes well for a robust solution that will last us in the long term but has caused delays – where does it leaves us in terms of timeframes.

Timeline Feb-2019

The current timeline is running around 1 year late so we’ve slipped by a year within our 1st year which is not boding well for south Galway.

South_galway_flooding_solution_timeline_q12019

If we look at the initial schedule then while it was saying ‘diggers on the ground in 2020’ (it was going to be late 2020) . And this would have had flood relief solutions in place by 2022.  This latest timeline is to have a flood relief solution in place by 2023 – so it’s still a year delay – if all goes well … and that’s a big ‘IF’.

2023 would make it a time span of 7 consecutive winters since our last peak flood which is unfortunately not working well in South Galway Communities’ favor.  This delay has added another year of dodging a flood and this is stacking up to making it more likely that we will get another flood event before we have a solution in place. 

Budget

The Feasibility study will result in a cost-benefit analysis of the flooding solution which again could have a major impact on the project.  One potential effect of having an accurate hydrology model is that we may be able to get a more realistic measure of actual flooding scenarios, with climate change factors added.  We suspect that this analysis will show that we haven’t seen the worst floods by a long-shot, and therefore the overall benefit that we would get from a flood-relief solution could rise.

In mid-Feb 2019, due to the massive overspend on the cost of the children’s hospital, with the total figure now said to be coming in around €1.4b, it was announced that that OPW would have to shave €3 million from their flooding budget which would be taken from flood relief schemes. Schemes that have already been announced won’t be touched which means schemes that are in development, like the South Galway Flood Relief Scheme, could be.

Risks

There are other potential risks to the project that will start to emerge – Even though this project will have immense benefit for the environment (See Killing of Coole),  it still has to be tick the environmental boxes in the guise of ‘Environmental Constraints’ and will have to be managed like any other project.  Mott MacDonald are the Environmental Consultants that have been working on identifying these constraints and working with the design consultants. Note : Ryan Hanley and Mott MacDonald rely on the delivered hydrology model to be able to design and tweak the model to ensure that it fits within the Environment objectives. (Usually defined by the Special Areas of Conservation).   Once the solution has been designed then the project will have to go through public consultation which can then bring on it’s own risks and delays.

What can be done?

We need Galway County Council and OPW to get on top of the delays and see how can we streamline other parts of the process.

  • Can we speed up the feasibility process? It can take several days to get results from running different hydrology scenarios. Can we use more processing power to get results quicker?
  • Detailed design and  ministerial confirmation – this can take 8-12 months (or longer)  – what do we need to do to  get this done in the 8 months?
  • While the project could start in 2022, what immediate works could have the biggest impact? Can we immediately start to work from the sea back so that some of the solutions come online quicker by winter 2022. What can be done?

The clock is ticking and we can’t afford any more delays.

What can we do?

After a few winters of no peak flooding events,  it can be very easy to relegate the trauma that our communities felt in the 2015/2016 flooding crisis as a thing of the past – In reality it’s more like we have 100s of people throughout South Galway holding a ticking time-bomb each winter wondering if it will go off. This is putting a mental strain on people

Last year, for instance, we had a lot of rain, without any really severe storms and Coole Lake began to reach its peak.  For 4-6 weeks we were just one winter storm away from a potential major flooding crisis.  This creations anxiety and tension for people who are vulnerable to flooding impacts.

The main thing that we all can do is to keep flooding as a top priority for South Galway.

For the sake of these people, we have to ensure that flooding as put up as a top priority for South Galway.  There will be local council elections (Friday, 24 May 2019), there will be general elections throughout this period and flooding needs to be moved up that priority list to ensure that we get the solution we need.  We want this project watched like a hawk and our local representatives to be proactive, and demanding. We want no further delays and we want

For any candidate running for local County Council elections on Friday, 24 May 2019 please consider and ask them the following.

  1. If this a re-election for a candidate, in reality how proactive have they been when it came to flood-relief during and since the 2015/2016 floods?
  2. If this is a new candidate then where does flooding fit on their agenda?
  3. What will these candidates actually do if elected, to keep flooding solutions a high priority in South Galway?

We also need our elected Ministers and TDs to re-commit to putting flooding back on the priority list and to we need to remind them that is not OK to divert $3 million of money committed to flood relief to dam up a poorly planned and executed project in another sector.

As the canvassing effort gets underway, please ask these questions to ensure that they will keep flooding as a top priority for South Galway.

-David Murray

South Galway Flood Relief Scheme Update Nov 2018

Galway County Council  organised a project update and presentation to the key community stakeholders on Nov 9th.   There are positives and negatives. In general SGFRC is happy with the team work, the professionalism and world-class expertise being brought to the fore here but concerned over environmental risks and the impact of 8-10 month delays due to project complexity.

Summary

[South Galway Flood Relief Committee (SGFRC) Perspective]

  • There has been a huge amount of engineering and scientific work in ensuring we are getting the best overall solution for South Galway.   The model of the underground network and connectivity looks very good with <1% errors which means we have for the first time ever we have a tool to allow us to get a very good understanding of flow dynamics in South Galway. This means we can now predict flood events probability and extend  as well as provide the best assessment of flood solutions
  • We are very confident that we have a superb overall team including Galway County Council, OPW, Ryan Hanley, Mott McDonald, GSI and TCD.  There has been a lot of proactiveness between the entire group to ensure the project progresses and we hope that this will continue.
  • We are happy that some advance works are progressing especially finding an alternative access to Rinrush where 10 families have been cut-off for many weeks at a time.
  • The engagement with the public is quite good. The engineering and environmental consultants have taken our communities feedback into account and are actively looking for answers

However, the following are the key concerns

 

  • We are concerned that this project will be threatened by environmental factors, even though this is project should improve people lives And the environment. This is quite concerning. We have to ensure that Target Maximum flood levels across the catchment are based on people’s health, homes, farm buildings and roads and are not dictated solely be environment.  If feels like we are navigating through the eye of an environmental needle at the moment.
  • We acknowledge that this is an extremely complex project and there have been additional works being done based on public consultation feedback, we are concerned about the overall impact to the timeline.  The complexity delays could add an additional  8–10 months onto the overall schedule and this is very difficult to accept as we have an open threat of flooding every winter.  In the interim, we are not confident that Galway County Council can provide the right level of flood support as the emergency plan is not realistic. We need to understand how we can improve the timeline

 

 

Meeting Details

Attendees

  • Enda Gallagher :Galway County council
  • County Councillors : Joe Byrne and Michael Fahy.
  • Johnathan Reid , Conor Warner, Michael Joyce : Ryan Hanley Engineering Consultants
  • Rita Mansfield : Mott MacDonald , Environmental Consultants
  • Ted McCormick , Owen Naughton: GSI
  • Patrick Morrissey, Paul Johnson, Lawrence Gill, TCD
  • David Murray, Martin McInerney, Michael Cahill, Ray Fogarty, Tommy Fahy (South Galway Flood Relief Committee)
  • Diarmuid Kelly, David Krause : Cuan Beo
  • Mattie Hanlon

Engineering Update

Engineering input to date

Data collection for the study area ongoing and large bank of information has been collected and reviewed.

8 weeks surveying maximum flood levels, gathering all information required for flood risk assessment.  Note : Survey not complete (See additional note below)

  • Ongoing engagement with TCD and GSI regarding modelling.
  • Additional LIDAR areas were identified. LIDAR Survey is now complete. Data to be issued in the next few weeks.
  • Majority of Meetings with committee members / area representatives to identify properties complete. Meetings to be completed once all LIDAR mapping received
  • Site walkovers carried out to flood risk areas. To be completed once all LIDAR mapping received
  • Threshold survey for properties in or adjacent to be flood risk areas (based on Winter 2015/16 and November 2009 flood extents) completed.
  • Culverts and bridges survey completed. Additional topographic survey to be undertaken for particular sections.

Notes :

  • There are place where house surveys have not been completed. This is because the LIDAR Data was not available. All LIDAR Surveys have been complete but the data processing is still ongoing and will be available in the coming weeks. Once this has been done the additional home surveys will be complete.   This includes areas around Kilmacduagh, Tarmon, Tulla areas.

Public Consultation

Public Consultation held on 3rd May 2018 in Gort. The two main themes emerging from the public consultation included

  1. That effects of rapid-runoff the Slive Aughty highlands and the effect this has on flooding
  2. Concerns that the scheme would affect salinity in Kinvara Bay

Based on feedback from Public Consultation, the following has been completed:

  • Two site visits with Committee to the Slieve Aughty to forestry lands and windfarms.
  • Assessment of the benefits associated with potential works in the Slieve Aughty ongoing. TCD has undertaken modelling and prepared a report on the findings.
  • Assessment of coastal discharge ongoing. Additional dye tracing proposed to confirm the catchment area planned to undertaken in the coming months.

Advance Works Assessment

Possible Advanced Works contracts identified as follows:

  1. AW1: Reinstatement of blocked Swallow Holes. Meeting held with NPWS was held. Not permitted as this is difficult to understand the impact. No longer to be considered for Advance Works.
  2. AW2: Culverts between Caherglassaun and Cahermore (at Leeches) . Likely significant works. Insufficient information available yet to design. On hold until main phase.
  3. AW3: Cahermore to Kinvara Overland Flow-path Reinstatement Measures. Insufficient information available yet to design. On hold until main phase.
  4. AW4: Newtown Hill/ Rinrush Emergency Access Road. Works being considered for advanced works. Assessment complete and proposal developed. GCC to confirm if works are to be scheduled. Next stage once proposal is finalized is landowner engagement.
  5. AW5: Roxborough Demesne. Works scheduled to be undertaken as part of the Kilchreest Drainage District maintenance works. Assessment complete and proposal developed. Works scheduled.

 Route Corridor & Target Flood Levels

  • Potential Route corridors for flood alleviation measures have been identified to guide the environmental assessments and modelling. This identify the probable routes that conduits could take and involved site walk, LIDAR data and old mapping data.  There will be further refinement of these routes following TCD model inputs and additional LIDAR.
  • First Stage of Target Maximum flood levels and flood extents maps have been assessed for the Coole system based on threshold survey and site visits. This is an Iterative process and will be refined at later stages

The following table outlines the potential flood reduction

First Stage of Target Maximum flood levels
Name Previous Maximum Target Peak Reduction
Blackrock Turlough 29.45mOD ~2.5m
Ballylee 19.4mOD ~2.0m
Kiltartan 15mOD ~1.5m
Coole 14.75mOD ~2.3m
Caherglassaun 14.5mOD ~3.5m
Cahermore 13.6mOD ~3.3m

Notes : For Ballylee,  reduction of 2 M will not provide full protection for Ballylee Castle,  it doesn’t seem possible to physically reduce that level of water levels down fully. However they can be reduced to an acceptable level and with barriers to protect the doorways, it’s possible to manage the flooding. (Barriers have kept out rising levels recently)

Environmental Consultant Update (Rita Mansfield Mott MacDonald)

Rita reassured the group that her and Mott MacDonald’s role here is not to be the environmental nay-sayers (my words) but to successfully navigate this project through the necessary process so that it stands up against any environmental law scrutiny (Just think of Galway Outer Bypass being stalled for years as one of the environmental factors (bog Cotton ) was overlooked!

Work to Date

  • First Public Consultation: 3 May 2018 in O’Sullivan’s Hotel, Gort
  • Constraints Study: Completed August 2018
  • Report and Appendices available for download on http://southgalwayfrs.ie/
  • Ecological Field Survey (channel concepts): Completed August 2018
  • Advanced Works, Rinrush and Roxborough: EIA and AA Screening Completed November 2018
  • FRS Screening for Appropriate Assessment: Ongoing
  • Salinity Model: Ongoing

Notes :  Due to delay in the Catchment Model (TCD), there was a high risk to meet Eco field study.  Ryan Hanley developed a channel concept that allowed the majority of the Biodiversity, ecological sturdy to be done without missing a season (essentially a year!)  This allowed MM to have early understanding – come up with initial assessments ad to make sure we are not damaging vulnerable habitats

Public Consultation

Statutory Consultees (e.g. NPWS Coillte, etc)

Contacted by post in April 2018

  • Targeted meetings held with NPWS, IFI, Coillte, Forest Service, Local Authority Water and Community Officer
  • Key Outcomes:
    • IFI highlighted the importance of Kinvara Bay as a fishery and aquaculture area
    • NPWS raised concerns about swallow hole clearance possibly forming part of the Scheme. Proof of no significant effect would be extremely difficult as the response of the turlough to the works could not be predicted. The potential for such works to have to go to IROPI is high.
    • The potential for these works to fall under the remit of “management of a European site” was tabled. NPWS stated that this would not be applicable as the turloughs were still operating as turloughs, and as such are acting naturally.

Non-Statutory Consultees (e.g. NPWS Coillte, etc)

Public Consultation day held 3rd May 2018 in Sullivan’s Royal Hotel, Gort, from 3pm to 10pm

Key Outcomes:

  • The perception from the public is that something has changed in the catchment in recent years requiring the need to slow the flow in the upper catchment.
  • Concerns about the possibility of an overland flow path between the turloughs and the sea: reduction in available areas of land for farming, change in salinity / water quality of Kinvara Bay affecting aquaculture.
  • The flood relief scheme may not resolve flooding of access roads and may not protect against land flooding (scheme directed towards property protection)
southgalwayfloodingcontraints.JPG
Public Opinion on Source of Flooding
southgalwayfloodingcontraints2.JPG
Public Opinion on Measures

Constraints Study

There was study done regarding the environmental constraints that potentially affect this development.

These constraints are built into any proposed development project and the role of the environmental consultants (Mott Macdonald) is ensure a really thorough study is undertaken to minimise the that this project won’t be scuppered by environmental issues at a later stage. (Think Galway outer bypass delay of > 7 years)

As this area is peppered with SACs then this is quite a complex part of the project and includes studies on :

  • Biodiversity – change in turlough hydrology, damage to protected habitats /species
  • Cultural Heritage – avoid National Monuments, recorded archaeological monuments and protected structures
  • Landscape – landscape character areas, stone walls and hedgerows, enhancement
  • Soil Geology and Hydrology – alter drainage patterns and geological features
  • Water Resources – water dependent activities, WFD,
  • Population and Land use – interruption to services, value of tourist attractions
  • Material Assets – maintenance of transport and utility infrastructure

As this is a flood-relieft project – From the constraints study, the main focus here is the biodiversity/ecology. The main risks found were:

  1. Ballynastaig Woods – A channel could potentially have to be developed within area of wooded limestone pavement protected under the Coole-Garryland Complex SAC – High IROPI Risk (see below)
  2. Culvert at Lough Mannagh is a bat roost. The culverts at Hawkhill Lough could not be surveyed due to H&S, however have high bat roost potential. Channel Maintenance proposed, section of which is within East Burren Complex SAC
  3. Salinity of Kinvara Bay

Notes :

  • #1 is one of the main risks to the project and needs deep assessment. The route through the limestone pavement in Ballynastaig  will need to be assessed to see if alternate routes exist, or if it’s possible to have a different sized channel. This will be analysed and refined further when the TCD model is up and running (December 2018) . The Model will also help gauge the impact of reducing the max peak of Caherglassaun (3.5m) as the underground channel between Coole and Caherglassaun will probably still be in flow .
  • This will also link in with the Cost-Benefit
  • IROPI = imperative reasons of overriding public interest and is way to proceed with a develompent despite environmental constraints – however this is potentially a lenghty and costly process – so best to avoid!If IROPI is required – it would add years to the project

In general, they are the key areas. There were studies done for other mammals also but nothing high-risk

  • No real badger activity as these turloughs flows (so its not surprising)
  • Lesser horseshoe bat in Kiltartan Cave – need to assess impacts as we may be removing hedge rows in the vicinity for better water flow

Notes : DM stated that flood mitigation will offer more protection than the displacement of a few hedgerows. Feedback was that this was low risk.

Salinity Model

  • MSN Hydro International Ltd: Professor Mike Hartnett and Dr. Steve Nash.
  • Using an existing 3-dimensional barotropic/baroclinic model of Galway Bay which was developed using the INFOMAR data
  • The model has been validated against tidal dynamics and against acoustic doppler current profiler (ADCP) measurements at points within Galway Bay
  • The model will consider differences in horizontal gradients of salinity and also consider vertical salinity differences with and without the flood relief scheme
  • The model will use salinity base-line  data provided by Dr Rachel Cave NUIG
  • Data provided by EPA from 2008 to 2017 is also available to validate the model
  • Cuan Beo has indicated that they also hold salinity data
  • Marine Institute intend to put new monitoring station in Kinvara, this will not be available in time for the project

Salinity Concerns

Cuan Beo highlighted their concerns again for salinity affects in Kinvara Bay and that oysters cannot survive low salinity levels for long as it increases their stress and makes them more susceptible to disease.   SGFRC member Tom Fahy highlighted that there are risks to human lives and wellbeing by the levels of flooding in South Galway Catchment.  SGFRC Chair, David Murray reiterated that while this may be the wettest 2 decades in the past 300 years,  The South Galway communities should not become the dumping ground for excessive flood water run-off.  He highlighted that the Targeted Maximum flood levels were the vital contract to eliminating flooding threats to people’s homes and livelihoods while at the same time maintaining the integrity of the turloughs. 

GSI – Update

There has never been more data collected w.r.t. turlough monitoring and flood mapping in Ireland and much of this is in South Galway where many permanent monitors are being installed.

Current Monitors

 

 

GSI are also using Copernicus Satellite data ( 4 photos in 6 days) to look at historical flood data (e.g.  2015/2016 floods have been captured for the entire country). These are Radar images and can see through cloud.

These images are being analysed to and approximate the Turlough boundaries. The accuracy is 10m but it can be possible to get accuracy by averaging the boundary.  With the LIDAR data is it is therefore possible to get very good accuracy of the change in Turlough Volumes – which is essential for the Catchment Model.  There is very good accuracy compared with the turlough monitors except in areas of heavy woodland where it is difficult to gauge flood boundary from satellite data.

GSI are also developing rainfall simulations

  • 3 year accurate
  • 40 year historic
  • 1000 year synthetic (estimated)

gsi_rainfall_models.JPG

This will also take Climate Change modelling into account.

Catchment Model Updates :  Patrick Morrissey,TCD

There is no doubt that this is a very complex process.  A previous model developed South Galway Turlough networks was used as a based and then further developed into a flood analysis model.  The model was calibrated to achieve more accuracy by:

  1. Getting more precise data on whole topography (From LIDAR)
  2. Getting more historic flood data (From GSI)
  3. Focusing on key areas (From Ryan Hanley, Mott MacDonald)

Currently the model is now exhibiting similar behaviour to real flooding events e.g. generally <0.5% error for majority of areas. This has taken a lot of work to get this accuracy.

south_galway_flood_model.JPG

Running historical rainfall figures, this model has successfully shown the main flood events over the past 30 years. This model will now be used by RyanHanley to understand 1:100 flood extend to feed into Cost-Benetif analysis as well as being used to model and assess flood alleviation scenarios with Ryan Hanley

Patrick used the model to assess impacts of increased run-off the Slieve Aughty Mountains. He assessed the forestry coverage in the 3  catchments and the effects of thinning, clear-felling and maturity of sites.

forestry_analysis.JPGHe simulated various scenarios where he smoothed the peak events over 24 hr, 36 hr and 48 hr and reduce levels (storage).    In general, the effect of rapid run-off while it definitely has an impact, the overall flooding effect on the lowland Turloughs was not deemed substantial.  This can be related to Mature forests >15 years have a dampening affect on flooding.  With what was described as a very unrealistic case (store flood peak for 2 days, the effect on Coole was to reduce peak flooding it by 70cm.

Notes:

SFGRC stated that 70cm could mean a house flooding – Patrick highlighted that this 70cm was a very unrealistic case and was just there to give an indication – it was probably more likely a lot less. He did say there definitely has an affect but in the overall flooding of South Galway it substantial enough to merit investing in.

Conor Warner highlighted that the main basins provide the dampening effects.  An average of 8mm over 25 days is ok for Coole lake levels, but an average of 12mm over 25 days, there is serious flooding. This is the kind of timespan that we are looking at.  Conor also pointed out that we could blow out budget trying to manage the high-lands but we’ll still hit the same flooding scenarios. We need to invest in keeping the water flowing through the system and not letting it build up.

SFGRC summary :  I think this has shown us where our solution should focus.   We have seen the numbers that we need to reduce peak Turolough levels (2m-3m) and reducing mountain peak flows by 24-48 hours is not having this much impact so we need to see what  solutions we can have in the lowlands to manage levels (over several weeks). We saw in fact in, in Winter 2017 the flood levels rise with just continuous rain over several weeks.

We should not forget though that forestry felling has an clear impact so we need to ensure that this is managed properly and that the impact is mitigated.  SFGRC has worked with Irish Forestry Service and Coillte on a policy for the management of the Slieve Aughty forestry to minimize impact.

There was also a mention of a previous proposal where some portion of the the Owenshree could be diverted into the Aagard. Again, this was deemed a lower priority solution than keeping the water flowing through the Gort/South Galway lowlands.

Going Forward

The focus will be to now start using the hydrology model and running the 1000s year rainfall scenarios to understand the real one in 100 year flood event (there is speculation that we haven’t actually seen one yet) .

hydrology model

The corresponding 1:100 year flood will define the true flooding extend and give an estimate of the benefit of fixing this 1:100 year flood event.  this is the budget.

The consultants will then try different scenarios and measure these with the same data to test there efficiency and then try and match the cost and the environmental considerations.

Unfortunately, this level of analysis is more complex than anticipated and the feasibility study conclusion will be at least 8-9 months doing this analysis – Q3 next year (Sept-Oct 2019)  – However – the SGFRC would prefer that we get all the facts and accuracy we need here and develop the right solution rather than cutting corners and ending up with a sub-optimal solution.

-David Murray

Solving South Galway Flooding – Good start but complexity slowing feasibility study

There has been a lot going on over the past 6 months with substantial level of data gathering from extensive home/farm flooding surveys, public consultation, LIDAR and satellite data collection.  This information is crucial in developing an accurate and complex hydrology model of South Galway that will allow

  1. A more accurate prediction of flooding dynamic  that will feed the Cost-benefit analysis
  2. The impact of proposed solutions (attenuation, bunding, channels)

There is a lot of data required to develop an accurate model and the models itself is very complex to develop. This we are told is leading to a delay in the final feasibility study being pushed out from Jan 2019 to May 2019, and could mean a delay in overall project by the same timeframe.

Other concerns are that the NPWS has put more or less a moratorium on Swallow holes reinstatement/maintenance (anticipated light maintenance – removal of wraps and tress won’t be a major issue).

Abbreviations :

  • RH: Ryan Hanley, Engineering Design Consultants
  • MMD : Mott McDonald,, Environmental consultants
  • GCC : Galway County Council
  • OPW: Office of Public Works
  • SGFRC : South Galway Flood Relief Committee

Information Compilation

A lot of the feasibility study stage is about compiling a lot of information relevant to flooding to assess flood extents and feed cost-benefit analysis which will determine the justification and budget for flooding solutions.

Land Surveys

RH have (almost) completed the most extensive survey of land, homes, farms in South Galway  to date in relation to flood levels.   The survey team collected finished floor levels, path levels, historic flood levels, flooded road levels, bridge and structures data including :

  • 174 houses, Farm buildings, septic tanks, fuel storage
  • 24 additional farm buildings
  • 10 commercial properties,
  • 47 bridges and culverts and several kilometres of roads.

This information is currently being compiled by RH into a GSI database to be used in the cost-benefit analysis.

Note : There are several areas that have not been completed yet, as they are waiting on additional LIDAR result before surveys are commissioned – if you are concerned, please contact Galway County Council.

LIDAR

LIDAR gives an extremely accurate land topography (heights of land to a few CM) .  There was some historical LIDAR Data around South Galway but several key pieces were missing.  This year additional LIDAR flights were commissioned to fill in some missing pieces (Around Caherglassaun-Cahermore, Caherawooneen, Turloughmore/Tulla, Kilmacduagh, Gortnaculla, Liseen, Tarmon).  There is still more to be commissioned around Kilchreest, Ardrahan, Killinney, Lough Cutra and the M18 towards Tubber

Salinity Monitoring

MMD is looking to get salinity monitoring (Kinvara Bay)  data from EPA and NUIG and this will be added to the Hydrology model

Public consultation Day

Public Consultation Day took place on 3 May 2018 in O’Sullivan’s Hotel, Gort, and was attended by representatives from GCC, OPW, RH & MMD. 55 people signed the attendance sheet but many more attended.  The themes :

  • Concerns that the scheme would affect salinity in Kinvara Bay
  • Assurances that the proposed scheme would include measures to reduce rapid run-off the Slieve Aughty Mountains

Hydrology Modelling

The hydraulic Modelling has been significantly complex and initial (3d) models were too slow for running the number of scenarios that needed to be run for forecasting, solution iteration etc. These models were replaced by simpler models (1d) that would fit initial feasibility study assessment.  The more accurate models that will still be used for signoff but there is more work in creating these models leading to delays.

hydrology model

Turlough Levels Monitoring

There has been a significant increase in the number of Turlough Monitors in South Galway and many people will have seen GSI people installing monitors (mainly temporary) .  The following GSI monitors were installed in Autumn 2016:

  • Caranvoodaun
  • Caherglassaun
  • Coole
  • Blackrock
  • Garryland
  • Newtown
  • Hawkhill
  • Managh
  • Termon North & South
  • Ballinduff
  • Roo
  • Coy
  • Cahermore
  • Labane
  • Kiltartan
  • Tulla

These monitors were installed in Summer 2017.

  • Cockstown
  • Ballyboy
  • Ballylee Sinks (north and south)
  • Castletown sink

There are also several permanent monitors being installed. Here is a shapshot image of the monitors.

Gort_stations_GSI
South Galway Turlough Monitors – Courtsey of Geological Survey Ireland (2018)

Turlough Levels (Satellite)

As several of the monitors are new, GSI/TCD are also using new techniques to analysing satellite imagery to determine real-time Turlough levels over the past 3 years.  This imagery is produced by the ESA Sentinel-1 satellites using SAR (synthetic aperture radar) and works through cloud or at nighttime  and is particularly good at highlighting waterbodies. It has captured hi-resolution imagery of Ireland every 2-3 days since 2015 and therefore has captured flooding events/water levels so it can be used to determine Turlough/flooding levels where there was no monitors – (The good news is that this applies to all of Ireland, and not just South Galway).

Gort_SAR.png
SAR Imagery of South Galway – Christmas Day 2015 :   Geological Survey Ireland (2018), ©Copernicus data (2018)

Weather Prediction/Climate change models

There is significant work on developing more realistic Weather prediction/climate change models for the 1:100 year, 1:1000 year rainfall.   TCD/GSI are working on updating their models to have more accurate weather forecasting. This are collaborating with the Irish Centre for High-End computing to do weather, climate and rainfall prediction  to provide long term ‘synthetic rainfall simulations‘ that will be used by the hydrological model to provide the 1:100 flood limit estimations.

Uplands Attenuation

From being highlighted as Public Consultation day and also from the SGFRC There has been some additional work on looking at potential uplands attenuation.  What happens if you slow-the-flow and flatten the peaks?  Some attenuation scenarios show limited impact on upland and lowland Turlough while other attenuation scenarios show possible lowering of low-land Turloughs by 1.5m and consequently lowering upland Turloughs by 0.5m. This is the kind of early analysis being done with the model currently.

Channels

In order to progress the solution RH have drawn in conceptual channels (link – 20m each side, depth unfixed) between the different areas and are working with MMD to do an initial Environmental Investigation – looking at habitats, impacts etc of proposed work.

Initial Environmental Assessment

Initial findings highlight some bat populations, woodlands and limestone shelfs as part of Coole Park and Caherglassaun.  While it might be ok to take away some woodland within the channel., digging into limestone shelves may be more problematic.  The salinity of Galway Bay will also need to be addressed.  The channel definition have allowed the advancement of seasonal ecological surveys so the 2018 season isn’t lost.

Advanced Works

The SFGRC highlighted several areas could be problematic for the South Galway Communities that would need to be resolved in the short term.  GCC outlined in the project brief the possibility of doing some Advanced works and RH created an overall list of some areas for potential advanced works.

 

Advanced Works Description Status
Reinstatement of Swallow Holes There was potential to re-instate some significant swallow holes that have become filled in over the years. This has hit a proverbial black hole – NPWS have indicated that Swallow hole clearance is not likely to form part of the scheme, as the effects of clearance are difficult to predict and it would be extremely difficult to demonstrate that work around swallow holes would not have a significant effect on Natura 2000 Sites.  It was accepted that clearance of large artificial deposits (bale rap, and timber debris etc.) could potentially be removed.

SGFRC highlighted that this could be seen as maintenance of an SAC which doesn’t require appropriate assessment.

Overall – SGFRC are not happy with this position.

Culverts between Caherglassaun and Cahermore (Leeches) SGFRC highlighted concerns of the GCC-made dam between Caherglassaun and Cahermore. The concerns here is that the new height of the road with a few 12 inch pipes  will hold back water into Caherglassaun/Coole/Tierneevin, Gort, Crannagh, Kiltartan, Corker etc.  And add flood risk to these communities before flood scheme gets under way. Stalemate here –  GCC raised the road without any proper analysis (threw a few 12inch pipes down) but raised the road 6ft so as long as this remains – they may be responsible for uplands flooding.   If GCC install bigger culverts, again without proper analysis, then again they could be responsible for downstream flooding.

 

With the lack of detailed flow analysis – it is difficult to ascertain what to do here as an interim measure.  Work will probably not proceed.

 

Cahermore to Kinvara Overland Flowpath Reinstatement Measures SGFRC highlighted concerns that the Cahermore pipe outlet is 18 inches below the surrounding land and that it needs be fixed.  They also highlighted that the link between Cahermore and the pipe could benefit from a culvert Will form part of the permanent solution rather than Advance Works
Rinrush Access SGFRC/RH discussed several options a Rinrush Emergency Access Road to help avoid the complete isolation of the community there for 6+ weeks during flooding Early stages but this looks promising for the Rinrush community but with details to be worked out (Needs environment assessment, landowner agreements) etc.
Roxborough Demesne: This is the 1st house that floods – flash flood for several hours backs into Paddy McGlynn’s place. Early stages but looks favourable for advanced works – probably done in phases. Volume of water being dealt with won’t have any impact on Grannagh/Blackrock. (Needs environment assessment etc)

 

Timeline

Unfortunately, with its complexity and refactoring, it is looking like the hydrology modelling completion aspect will delay feasibility study by 5 months. (the initial model was supposed to be delivered in Jan)  – there seems to be a correlation of several factors:

  • Model has been previously used in Academia and not as a core technology for analysis and simulations – it was too slow to produce results.
  • The updates to the model are quite complex and difficult to converge
  • More aspects to the model – salinity and uplands rapid-run-off analysis

GSI have indicated that they don’t foresee any more delays in the model and that it’s now in good shape – it will be continuously refined as more data comes in.

Conclusion

The success of this project relies heavily on science as this is an incredible complex and sensitive project.  One the positive sides- Galway County Council, the consultants and GSI are so far extremely thorough.

  • Full land Surveys – to understand homes being threatened
  • Turlough monitors/Satellite SAR analysis
  • LIDAR data for accurate hydrology modelling
  • Full hydrology modelling of the Turlough network
  • Latest Weather prediction techniques.

Also the consultants have been creative in working out ways to continue to progress -developing channel concepts to allow environmental feasibility to progress.  The steering committee seem to be adaptive and supportive where change is needed.   There is additional work being undertaken which will have a positive impacts on the accuracy of results.

While this complexity and widening scope of work is pushing the feasibility study out by 4-5 months – It is not clear on the impacts on the overall project and if this 5 months will be added to the complete project or if something can be done to bring the timeline in? – This is question we will ask GCC.

Another concern is the NPWS position on ‘untouchable’  Swallow-holes, limestone shelves, etc  that may end up blocking some aspects of a solution. We all want to avoid a situation where a solution is not possible because of an environmental snag even if we can prove overall that this is a significant environmental benefit to this scheme.  This has become one of the big risks for this project and I will be addressing the Swallow-hole situation in an upcoming blog

Overall, the SGFRC is complementary of the thoroughness of the work being done by Ryan Hanley, Mott MacDonald, GCC, GSI/TCD and is supportive of getting the right level of accuracy to ensure we get a long-lasting flood solution.  We don’t want to have to be revisiting this again in 10 years time – However, we can’t afford more slips that introduce another winter cycle into the flood relief program.

-David Murray,

Chair South Galway Flood Relief Committee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

South Galway Floods – Public Consultation Thu 3rd May

Your input and local knowledge is important to ensure the development of an informed publicly acceptable scheme.  It’s time to have your say!
gortlowlandspublicconsultation1.JPG
Galway County Council intend to progress a flood relief scheme to alleviate flooding which has impacted the Gort Lowlands area. For more information you can see the leaflet below:

gortlowlandsfloodreliefleaflet

Mott MacDonald has been appointed by Galway County Council to carry out an Environmental Assessment of the proposed South Galway (Gort Lowlands) Flood Relief Scheme.  The purpose of this Public Consultation Day is to seek initial views from the public in relation to the key issues that should be addressed as part of the South Galway (Gort Lowlands) Flood Relief Scheme, and to highlight points of local importance that may constrain the design of potential flood alleviation measures.
Please call into Sullivan’s Hotel, on Thu 3rd May 2018 between 3pm and 9pm and give your feedback on the flooding there,.  You can fill out this questionnaire there, or at home and send it to the communications co-ordinator for the scheme, Ms. Rita Mansfield
By post:
Ms. Rita Mansfield
South Galway (Gort Lowlands) Flood Relief Scheme Communications Coordinator
Mott MacDonald Ireland Ltd., 5 Eastgate Avenue, Little Island, Co. Cork
By e-mail:

 

Please give your support to the community that has had to endure 5+ severe flooding events since 1990 – It’s threatening our farming community, our schools, our heritage and our national parks (The Killing of Coole)
Thanks. 

-David Murray 

The Killing of Coole

Coole Park is a nature reserve and one of the most beautiful areas in Ireland with a rich mix of natural beauty, a vibrant heritage history and a special area of unique environmental importance.  We see however that with extreme weather events – all of these aspects of Coole Park are being very badly threatened. We need to ensure that Coole Park is well protected by the emerging South Galway Flood Relief scheme.

The Walled Garden

In 1768 Robert Gregory,  Chairman of the East India Company, bought 600 acres from Oliver Martyn of Tulira and this became the foundation of Coole Park as we know it today.  In 1770 he built Coole house and also started the construction of a Walled Garden in 1775.  In 1776, it is reported in ‘A Tour of Ireland’ that many miles of walls are being constructed and also that “Mr Gregory has a very noble nursery, from which he is making plantations, which will soon be of great ornament to the country”.   As part of the Walled Garden, beech trees and a line of Yew trees are planted. Richard Gregory continued the work and also had a bust of Maecenas transported from Italy.

Coole Park is famous for its Autograph Tree and Lady Gregory (Wife of Robert Gregory’s great grandson) also had a fondness for the Yew and in ‘Gods and Fighting Man’,  called it ‘the most beautiful of the wood’.  There are very frequent reference to the line of Yew trees in visitor reports to Coole House.

“That afternoon I found the garden….. I went slowly along, crushing rosemary between my fingers, and wondering at the dark groups of stately Irish yews.”  Signe Toksvig, 1921

Even in the Ordinance Survey 1838 maps we see an outline of the walled garden with the paths, pumps and the  line of ‘evergreen’ trees where the current Yews stand.
 walledgarden1

And until recently this is what the Walled Garden looked with the line of yew trees in the centre and the Autograph tree on the left.

walledGarden2
Aerial View of the Walled Garden at Coole. (Courtesy of Leann Harmon)
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The Yews – Pre-2015

These yew trees (Taxus baccata) have become a distinct feature of Coole Park and can reach 400 to 600 years of age and beyond.

 Nature Reserve,  Special Protected area and Special Area of Conservation

In 1983, Coole Park, GarryLand was designated a Nature Reserve which “includes woodland and lake ecosystems which are of scientific interest and that the said ecosystems are likely to benefit if measures are taken for their protection”

 

NatureReserve.gif

It is also a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the E.U. Birds Directive, of special conservation interest for Whooper Swan.  Lastly, it is a Special Area of Conservation (SAC)  with special focus on:

  • Natural eutrophic lakes with Magnopotamion or Hydrocharition – type vegetation
  • Turloughs
  • Rivers with muddy banks with Chenopodion rubri p.p. and Bidention
  • Juniperus communis formations on heaths or calcareous grasslands
  • Semi-natural dry grasslands and scrubland facies on calcareous substrates (Festuco-Brometalia) (* important orchid sites)
  • Limestone pavements
  • Taxus baccata woods of the British Isles  (The Yew)

Coole-Park/Garryland is therefore one of the most specially protected areas in Ireland with significant ecological benefit. It is operated by the Irish National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) who are part of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht,  currently under Minister Josepha Madigan T.D.  It is their responsibility to ensure that Coole Park (and other Turlough areas) are protected.

cooleSac

Coole Park is now under significant threat from several flooding events and we need to ensure that those that are responsible for its protection are made aware of their responsibilities and do their jobs.

Severe Flooding

Several times in the past 30 years Coole Park has experienced severe flooding – in fact some of the worst flooding in several hundred years. While local people experienced the worst flooding seen in the area in their lifetime – Coole park was subject to an even starker picture –  that of experiencing the worst flooding in centuries –  many of the famous Yew trees that have been around for and estimated 220 years were destroyed by the flooding in Winter 2016 and water was very close to the autograph tree.

cooleParkFlood
The Walled Garden in Flood (28th Dec 2015)  – Courtesy of Sean Brady Aerial Photography

In the past 30 years, we have had a large set of hydrology changes in the South Galway / Kinvara Catchment.  The Slieve Aughty mountains now have significant developments around forestry and windfarms (with their corresponding roads and drains).  Uplands farming improvements have resulted in land being drained more than in times past.    In the Slieve Aughty lowlands there have been rivers streamlined, new culverts installed and inadvertently, some swallow-holes damaged and overflow channels obstructed through land reclamation.

Whatever the reason for hydrology changes the consequence is that Coole Park has become the defacto dumping ground and holding site for enormous amounts of contaminated flood water in South Galway.  This flood water includes pollutants and contaminents from septic tanks, farmyard slurry tanks and farmyard pollutants as well as farmland run-off and significant amounts of silting.  This not only has severe consequences for the environment and human health but it also drastically affects the overall community as the water levels threaten homes, businesses, churches and severely restricts access around several communities in South Galway.

Flooding Impacts

As Coole lake has unfortunately become the dumping ground for run-off water from the Slieve Aughty mountains – there are many significant consequences.

  • Flooding water damage to trees
  • Pollution
  • Wildlife impacts
  • Silting
  • Damage to park amenities
  • Flooding of outlying areas
  • Tourism and Heritage
  • Human Health
  • Farmyard flooding

Flooding water damage to trees

In 1995, 2009 and 2014 and 2015, the famous Walled Garden in Coole Park was inundated with flooding – 2015 being the highest levels.  It covered the picnic benches, flooded the shelters and saturated may of the yew trees and shrubs.  4 of the main yew trees did not fully recover and have since died

Nice weather for retrievers

yew1.JPG

These Yew trees had survived over 220 years and it shows that the levels of recent flooding allowed in Coole Park are record levels.   Also, it wasn’t just these Yew trees.   A large Yew tree at the Walled Garden car park was damaged, and an copse of Yew trees in Garryland was also severely damaged as well as several Yew tree near Newtown.  Coole Park is a Special Area of conservation (SAC) and Yew Tree (Taxus Baccus) woodlands are called out specifically in this.  We are therefore failing in adequate protection of this SAC.

Another impact on woodland is that flooding causes leaves the forest more vulnerable to storms.  In 2014, there was significant damage to the forest into which Coole Lake had flooded. The waterlogged ground made trees more susceptible to falling in windy conditions.  This is what happened the Yew tree a the Walled Garden Car Park  in Winter 2015

Water levels rose close to the base of the famous Autograph tree which would have made it more vulnerable to falling

Pollution

Coole lake received waters from many other flooded areas and subsequently caused flooding in areas closer to Coole (Kiltartan, Raheen, Glenbrack, Tierneevin,  etc) .  This involved a lot of farmyard flooding: (Photos : Courtesy of Sean Brady, Aerial Photography)


balllyhugh2
In this picture it is very clear to see the farmyard slurry contaminating the water system
ballkhugh
It is not just the farmyard slurry but many other pollutants that get into the system
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Farmyard in Tierneevin
glenbrackfloodingGort
A farm shed in Glenbrack completely immersed in flood water – Water levels should not be allowed to rise to these levels!

A very familiar site all around Coole Lake –  black plastic silage bags caught high-up in the trees. (Newtown Turlough- Coole-Garryland SAC

Several farm yards  around the area are 13m above sea level. In 2015,  Coole Lake rose to 14.78m,  and it overflowed into many farmyards, homes and businesses.  Common farmyard pollutants can include chemical fertiliser, engine oil, grease, fuel, silage wrap, weed killer, pesticides, veterinary medicine etc.  Also at this stage the contents of over 40 septic tanks were being washed into Coole lake.

5937380.jpg
We see here the plastic bottles being washed up close the hut (Courtesy of Burren Photography)

In many places, there were black plastic silage wrap spread through trees and shrubs all over the park.   With extremely high-level allowed in Coole, this pollution will also be  spread into the lower-lying turloughs and SACs.

 

Wildlife impacts

Pollution has a devastating on many animals and habitats. In a report from the UK on flooding it states –  “Most natural sites are able to take occasional flooding, but any water polluted by overflowing drains, septic tanks or pesticides from farms and parks is likely to have exacted a toll on many animals.” In addition to these devastating effects of pollution, during the floods of Winter 2015 some habitats were completely flooded and hibernating animals sought refuge from flood waters

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Many hibernating mammels were displaced and killed by the several flooding

Another key impact on an SAC is the Kiltartan Cave SAC (Probably the smallest SAC in Ireland!)

kiltartanSAC

This is an 800m long cave and is a habitat for a colony of bats and the SAC is to protect this habitat.  This is the key reason the now famous ‘bat-bridge’ was built (at substantial cost) across the M18 Motorway.  According to Tony Collins, project engineer for the M18 motorway,   it allows lesser horseshoe bats to safely cross the motorway to feeding grounds at Coole Park from their roosting site at Kiltartan Cave which were separated by the motorway. [6]

With extreme levels of flooding in Coole, this habitat is lost and the bat population displaced – something which grates against the EU habitats directive.

Silting

As the water leves of Coole Lake rose, the rivers feeding it lost pressure and this resulted in significant amount of silt deposits. This has a big impact on the natural ecosystem, marine life as well as impacting hydrology of the system.

 

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After Winter flooding 2009, there were huge silt banks on the Kiltartan River at Polldeelin
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The river after the rise into Coole Lake is very silted

Damage to park amenities

TThe main damage to Coole Park amenities was around the walled Garden and picnic area.  Also the little hut beside the river had its roof lifed too and damaged. The Coole Park Interpretative centre was became flooded. In 2015, there was as estimated  €20,000 of damage done around Coole Park amenities – There is also a potential knock-on impact to  tourism.

Coole Lake environment and upstream flooding

Coole Lake provides a significant amount of attenuation for South Galway, however when it is allowed to reach the levels it did in 2015 is has a huge impact across multiple communities.

coolelakelevels.JPG

Local Flooding from Coole

On a normal Summer, Kiltartan Church is 2 KM away from Coole Park and the lake levels can be just 5m above sea level (AOD) .   The door step at Kiltartan Church is 14.52m Above sea level (AOD) .

In Winter 2015, Coole Lake rose to 14.78m therefore Coole lake essentially backed into Kiltartan Church to a height of 26cm.  (OPW Levels)

 

kiltartanChurch.jpg
In Winter 2015, the level of Coole lake was 18 inches into Kiltartan Church.

Similarly Tierneevin is 2km from Coole lake in the summer and Coole lake backed up into this area as well.  this flooding homes, septic tanks, farmyards, this is what happens if the maximum level of Coole Lake is not maintained.

Coole Lake also flooded homes and businesses in Raheen, Crannagh, Glenbrack and Tierneevin.

According to McCormick/Naughton (GSI/Trinity) ,  the levels of water in the groundwater system can influenced flow rates in a Karst system. and highlights examples where the backwater effect of flooding at the downstream sink reduces the hydraulic gradient and increases upstream river levels. [1] High Coole lake levels mean a drop in pressure upstream causing more water to gather. Swallow holes almost completely stop working in Kiltartan, Roo and Tierneevin  as Coole Lake level back into them and some of the other flows are impacted – even as far back as Ballylee and Blackrock.

Access

As Coole lake flooded it blocked many roads all around its periphery.  The following list details  the amount of time roads were closed in the area around Coole, Garryland, Ballynastaigue

Kiltartan/Corker 91
Crannagh 81
Coole/ Glenbrack
21
Tierneevin
152
Caherglassaun
86
Roo 119

It also flooded the M18 motorway construction for several weeks.

Health Impacts

There is a significant threat to human health from this flooding scenario.   The mental stress and anguish of having your home or livelihood threatened is enormous.  Also many people were affected the severe isolation – not being able to leave your home conveniently.  The threat to physical health by contaminated water and health schemes is significant and private wells can continue to be contaminated long after flood water recedes.

Impacts on Farming

As Coole Lake rose, it covered a large amount of farmland and stayed on the land . Many farms in the area had to be reseeded at a significant cost to the farmer.  As with wildlife, another significant threat is that to farm animals and threat to their health from contaminated flood water.

Tourism and Heritage Impacts

Coole Park is a very attractive destination in the west of Ireland.  Trip Advisor shows it as the #1 attraction with 4.5/5 star reviews.

cooletripadvisor

An article in the New York times explores this area  and indicated that “The grounds are now a national park and preserve of manicured gardens and paths beneath majestic yews.”

The Irish Examiner highlights that “Continuing eastward around the park’s periphery, we entered the Walled Garden through a bright red gate. The scene within was one of classic beauty, manicured lawns, gazebos, picnic tables, a line of yews and the Autography Tree, a copper beech inscribed with the names of the Irish and Anglo-Irish literary greats of the last century.”

Allowing Coole Park to flood increases the risk of damage to the park, the infrastructure, the trees and the wildlife and therefore also to the Tourist potential of the area.

Putting it all in perspective

The following infographic gives a summary of the situation.  Info is compiled from OPW recorded levels and GPS aided levels.

CoolelevelsInfographic.JPG

Here are a number of facts.

  • Coole Lake minimum levels are around the 3M (Above Sea level /AOD)
  • Coole Lake maximum level recorded level in 2015 was 14.78 (OPW)
  • Coole Lake can rise to levels of 11m without any major flood threat, which is still an 8m (26ft)  difference from low summer levels.
  • Once Coole Lake level rises above 12m, road access is impacted and farmyards are threatened.
  • Once Coole Lake level rises above 13m, septic tanks and farmyards start to flood and homes are threatened.
  • Once Coole Lake level above 14m, the underground systems (Kiltartan, Tierneevin and Roo) are no longer working and homes start to flood.
  • Once Coole Lake reach 14.5m, several homes are flooding, up to 15 septic tanks are under water and many homes are now threatened

Solutions

Solving the flooding in Coole Park is a not a choice – it’s mandatory Coole Park is one of the most protected areas in Ireland and allowing severe flooding is devastating to the nature reserve,  several communities and in fact against EU law.   The organisation accountable for Coole Park nature reserve and owns the responsibility for ensuring this is adequately protected against threats (including flooding ) is the National Parks and Wildlife service – NPWS.

We have the best possible chance at getting a right solution here as the South Galway/Gort Lowlands Flood Relief Scheme gets underway.  Galway County council is running the project, we now have design consultants, environmental consultants working toward getting a solution.

The NPWS will also play a key role here according to Dr Enda Mooney, regional Manager, the NPWS is committed to “working  constructively with the design team for the South Galway flood relief scheme and Galway Co. Council to help steer the proposed scheme through the legal requirements under national and European legislation.”

The South Galway Flood Relief Committee has had several meetings over the past 2 years with Dr Mooney to try and demystify the situation that will enable flood relief solutions to progress seamless so that the South Galway Community gets its flood relief solution and that also keep to the letter of EU legislation. We’ve made some great progress on certain aspects and there some very good collaboration here and overall I feel that the NPWS has stepped up the plate.    However, there are still some areas of concern that need to be smoothed out and these will be outlined in the next article which will go into a bit more detail on these issues.

Coole Park was developed by the Gregory’s for hundreds of years and has become a magnificant nature park, with strong cultural and heritage ties.  It was left in the care of the Government in 1927 and taken over by the Forest Service and since 1987 it is  now in the care of the NPWS.  They now have a key reponsibility here to be part of the solution and help and advise the consultants to get a full flood relief solution that will help the South Galway Community and halt the killing of Coole.

In the meantime if you feel strongly about helping to save Coole Park from future serious flooding and in addition to helping the many people affected by flooding in South Galway – please share this  with as many people as you can.  Please comment and leave feedback because it’s our collective voice that can have an impact here.

Thanks!

David Murray, Chair South Galway Flood Relief Committee

References