In October last year, high winter water levels and flood relief delays was leaving South Galway exposed to flood risk. While August and September 2019 were close to double the expected rainfall, October and November had less rainfall than normal and it looked positive that the South Galway would escape yet another winter without flooding. Some people had expressed this to me that we were coming out the far side of this and it was unlikely that we would get flooding now. Some people were more cautious reflecting back to 2014 when we had a significant spike in February 2014.
Less than 2 weeks ago,The Blackrock Turlough, Peterwell, was close to disappearing and this morning it’s less than 1m from the road between Peterswell and Skehanna. There is more to come off the mountain and there is more rain on the way.
While recent rain it not the dramatic rain downpours of 2009 and 2015, or the large flooding volumes either, its a slower creeping buildup of water levels. This latest rainfall will likely flood roads around Tierneevin (just flooded across road as I’m typing..) and Tarmon and potentially by the weekend some roads around Blackrock, Peterswell, Ballylee, and we still have unpredictable weather over the next few weeks.
We have in some ways been lucky in the past 2 weeks. While Storm Ciara packed a quick punch of rainfall, Storm Dennis hopped off us and landed with a vengeance in England where it offloaded a months rain in 48 hours.
However, even today Thursday 20th of Feb, the outlook is for Heavy rain tomorrow and Monday.
The following graph shows the water levels at Russaun, the outlet of Lough Cutra. This essentially is the level of water that flows through Gort town (and eventually into Kiltartan)
Up until 9th February, the levels had stabilized and then Storm Ciara hit which surged levels. Storm Dennis and yesterdays rainfall have kept the levels up. This level of water won’t cause any sudden flash flooding but will continue to fill up Coole, Caherglassaun and Cahermore and make South Galway more susceptible to severe flooding if we get a further ‘winter’ storm.
The key concern here is that if we got another severe storm, then we could see a similar surge as we did with Storm Ciara on top of current levels – which would likely bring several flooding to the area.
On the backdrop of this, Galway County Council is due to submit Feasibility report in the coming weeks (Last date given was Q1-2020) – which will then decide on the future and viability the South Galway Flood Relief Proposal. South Galway, now, more than ever needs solutions not more failed report or expensive studies.
We are at the ‘right’ side of the flooding season and hopefully we will make it through unscathed. We are coming very close to the time to call out our elected representatives on their commitments to finally eliminate flooding in South Galway.
We should be keeping in mind a storm of a different kind if this much needed project fails to make it through.
If this penalty application gets through in December – the Irish Government will have to pay over €4,168,000 into the ‘European Union own resources’ account and then continue to pay €10,000 per day thereafter.
In 2003, The Derrybrien Windfarm Developers (ESB – 95% owned by Irish Government) didn’t do a proper Environment Impact Analysis for their development and proceeded with development and caused a massive landslide
In 2008 : After analysis the European Courts ruled against Ireland with a court order to reassess the Environmental Impacts and put in proper mitigation in place.
In 2008, the Irish authorities informed the Commission that the wind farm operator (ESB) had agreed to provide an updated environmental impact assessment
In Jan 2018, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issued a statement which indicated that Ireland would face fines of over €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.
In April 2019, a 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 – it wasn’t great and the Irish Government was harshly critizied as it 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. (ESB)
Before we dive into the money – an interesting point to consider is that Richard Bruton Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment is also responsible the the ESB (well 95% responsible anyway) and obviously responsible for the Environment – so – this should have been easy as the buck stopped there. After the April 2019 Judgement, frustrated by Government in-action I compiled a set of questions that I wanted the get answers to:
What progress has been made over the past 11 year and specifically, what actual progress has made in the past year, since the EU indicated potential fines of €2Million and 12K/day thereafter?
Why does Ireland seem unprepared and unprofessional in this. (To quote an EU environment enforcement officer ” There was quite some disbelief that IE could/would not act more decisively against a 95% state owned company. ” What is causing this delay?
As its likely that we will now receive harsh fines – Who will be footing this bill? Will this be the ESB or the Irish Government?
What are the Governments plans to rectify this and when will this happen?
In order to get clarity I asked our local Fianna Fail TD, Deputy Anne Rabbitte to help get some clarification here and I asked her to frame some Parliamentary questions about this to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment. This she did and this was the response from the Ceann Comhairle
“I regret to inform you that I have to disallow the (questions) … The Minister has no official responsibilities to Dail Eireann for this matter and is a matter for the ESB which is independent in its functions.”
We are not allowed to ask questions about a potential large penalty to be imposed on the Irish Government by the European Court of Justice on an environmental infringement. We are told we have to leave it to the ESB, a company 95% owned by the Irish Government, who promised to carry out an Environmental Impact assessment over 11 years ago because it is independent in its functions.
I can see how the European Court of Justice as critical of Irish Government governance = tail wagging dog
This is only an application and the final judgement will be given in a few months time, likely be the end of the year. This application has proposed
A lump-sum fine calculated at a rate of €1000/day from the date of the Court Order to the date of final judgement
A daily penalty of €10,000/day from the date of final judgement until the matter is fully resolved.
This isn’t news (we have always known) that this was coming down the road – ESB could have avoided this – The Irish Government could have avoided this by just doing the EIA.
If we say the final judgement will be 1st December 2019. That’s exactly 4168 days since the Court Order. (3rd July 2008)
If this penalty application gets through in December – the Irish Government will have to pay over €4,168,000 into the ‘European Union own resources’ account and then continue to pay €10,000 per day thereafter.
Note : This amount is 3 times the normal amount we should be paying because of the lack of response – Ireland got the maximum multiplier factor of 3 for this.
How does this relate to flooding in South Galway?
The original EIA of the wind-farm indicated that there would be no additional drainage on the 4sq KM site on the main Slieve Aughty Peak. After the landslide happened the developers put in place a ‘Robust-Drainage‘ Scheme, which involved digging 6ft x 8ft drains from each of the 71 turbine bases . Overall, the drainage of the site was impacted by:
200 Hectares of forest was clear-felled
Over 30 km+ of drains were dug
Over 17km of roads were constructed
71 turbine bases were dug out and constructed
With no impact assessment – how knows the effect the wind-farm has on the drainage but if you now consider this picture you can see why Derrybrien, Gort and South Galway communities should be concerned.
The severe flooding in Gort in 2009 was from the Gort River which comes down from this area.
The South Galway Flood Relief Committee want the same thing as Europe here – a proper assessment on the impacts of mountain operations in this area and retrospective mitigation to ensure that potential flooding impacts from the wind-farm are mitigated in some way.
The real frustration here is that rather than than investing in flood mitigation ware are throwing away money having to pay these penalties because organizations that could be contributing to the flooding won’t do the proper assessments and the Irish Government is standing idly by as money pours down the drain – Meanwhile the South Galway Flood Relief project has a risk of not progressing because it could be deemed to be too costly
This is something that we need to get vocal about as this is our money we are wasting and our flooding solution that could be in crisis. Please share!
For more information on the Derrybrien Windfarm Saga :
Many of the areas that are current flooding in South Galway have only been flooding in the past 30 years. Many farmers have indicated that they are the first of many generation who own the family farm that have had to deal with flooding. This flooding has been increasing in frequency with 5-6 floods in these 30 years. They are also increasing in severity with the worst flood experienced in winter 2009 being superseded in winter 2015.
What’s special about South Galway?
South Galway is extremely unique – It has 3 main rivers flowing westward from the Slieve-Aughty Mountains. These rivers disappear underground and reappear again. The last overground river flows into Coole Lake and all water makes its way to the sea at Kinvara underground.
Why does flooding in South Galway happen?
In its simplest form, flooding happens when there is too much water for the underground network to take. The underground channels cannot expand their capacity which leads to several basins (or Turloughs) starting to fill up. Flooding crises happen when the Turlough levels rise unconstrained to swamp roads, farms, farm buildings, homes, businesses, national parks, heritage sites etc.
What is causing the recent flooding?
There are several factors here. Most of the farming community believe that water is coming down off the Slieve Aughty mountains faster than it ever used to do in previous times. If we see what has changed over the past 30-40 years, there has been a lot of land changes in the mountains. There is a lot of forestry with associated drains and roads, there are windfarms that we suspect have changed the mountain hydrology. There is also the factor of increased rainfall and potential climage change aspects with wetter winters.
What are the impacts?
Flooding is causing a massive impact on communities in South Galway.
It brings the road network to a halt (2015.16 floods closed 60 roads)
It has isolated whole communities for 56 days
It has blocked access on key roads for over 100 days.
It has flooded 1000s of acres across 200 farms
It had flooded/badly threatened….
over 30 farm buildings
over 70 homes
over 12 businesses
churches, heritage sites
our national parks/SACs
Flooding is a worry every year in the winter storms season – from November until end of March.
This has been happening for 30 years and nothing had been done – can we fix his?
Yes – this is solvable and there are 2 main aspects of the solution
Implement better land management practices in the upland.
Manage Turlough Maximum Flood levels
Better Land Management
Manage the forest canopy, implement ‘slow-the-flow’ methods, incentivize farmers to adopt flood-mitigation aspects.
Target Turlough Levels?
This is the key solution because while land management can help with flash flooding type of scenarios but may not have as much an impact on the overall lowland flooding. The first thing we need is a target level for each turlough so that it ..
.. is safe for homes, most roads, farm sheds, businesses
.. maintains the integrity of the SAC
.. enables water levels to be managed (from mountain to sea)
How do we keep turlough to these levels?
We already have most of the answers here, because Turloughs currently naturally overflow along certain routes – they just cause havoc when they do. We need to refine these routes to that they take away that goes above a pre-determined level. While there are many flood mitigation options – both the design consultants and many in the community talk about oveflow ‘channels’. (See Flooding Solutions – ‘The Coole Lake Channel’)
These are not new solution. Most countries have storm-channels/drains that take away water from winter storms and channel it safely to the sea (or other) . This would be similar.
The overflow channels we are talking would only have water in them for a few weeks every 5-6 years. They would not be massive highways of concrete –
Can’t we just dig the channels now?
This is where the complexity comes in. In theory we could create several channels that link up the Turloughs and bring water to the sea but there are issues with this.
What size should these be?
Where should these be located?
What are the downstream impacts?
We have seen in the past works done on the mid-catchment (Gort, Castletown etc) that have simply pushed more water downstream where it causes even more problems. This area is also riddled with SACs and we have to make sure impacts are known. We can’t just offload water as we have done in the past and improve one area and cross our fingers that there are no downstream impacts.
What this means is that we have to do a full forensic analysis and gain a complete understanding of all the hydrology and how water flows in the area. This is extremely challenging when you don’t know exactly where water is flowing or the size of channels etc. This is where we need an in-depth analysis, the likes of which has never been undertaken in Ireland before. This is why we have needed extensive scientific research involving experts from Trinity, GSI and others.
What is the South Galway/Gort Lowlands project – feasibility study?
In 2016, the South Galway/Gort Lowlands Flood Relief project kicked off and its 1st goal was to apply scientific methods to determine viable solutions for South Galway. This involved the following
Home and Land survey around the areas of the flooding
Building of a Hydrology model for the area, including full topography of the area to be able to simulate flooding scenarios as well as solution viability.
Analyzing Climate change impacts
Environmental impacts and analysis
Setting of Maximum Target Turlough Flood Levels
Detailed solution design with agreed
The feasibility study will ultimately decide if this project is feasible from both a Cost-Benefit and Environmental point of view.
To set expectations – all of this analysis will probably end up detailing a very boring and mind-numbingly simple solution e.g. we need a channel 2m deep, 20m wide and 120m long between point A and B.
Where are we now with this project?
Due to the complexity of the task – the project feasibility has been delayed by 18 months. The final feasibility is due this April (2020). The good news is that from preliminary analysis – an overall technical solution to the flooding scenarios exists! The concerning news is that we don’t know if this passes both the cost-benefit and environmental point of view.
What happens if we don’t make the Cost-Benefit cut?
Firstly, we are not happy with the measurement criteria as it is more suited toward urban flooding, not flooding in a rural area. We are also not happy that with the ‘Cycle-of-Wastage’ we see here. €13 million was spend on emergency flooding relief in Galway in 2015/16 floods – most in South Galway. We then will spend money (more millions) doing a report which will then ultimately say it’s not feasible. So, we better make the cut.
If we don’t make the cut on paper – our public representatives (Ciaran Cannon, Sean Canney and Anne Rabbitte) have assured us that they will call on top-level Government Commitment to ‘fix’ this and bridge any gap between cost and benefit.
A fact that is currently being highlighted by the communities here is that the Government enables large wasteful fines build up for finds on the Derrybrien windfarm (Which locals believe is exacerbating the flooding) and if they can waste €5 million of taxpayers money on fines for poor development, surely they can spend this bridging a gap in CBA – and finally fix South Galway flooding – like they committed to.
What happens if we don’t make the environmental cut?
I think people will be baying for NPWS heads again and many questions will be asked and many fingers will point to the EU again as happened in the last flooding event.
This project should actually be a prime example of how we are saving SACs by ensuring our Turloughs don’t flood to levels where they then pollute SACs and it would be absolutely ridiculous if we are actually protecting 7-8 SACS (with their multitude of their conservation objectives) . See ‘The Killing of Coole’
So – it’s all about the decision in the next few weeks?
Yes – there are several phases to full development, but this is the first possibility that the project will fail – We have been told that there is a solution, but we need to move beyond this and get the past the cut.
We have a horrible legacy of failure here, but we have also the best chance we have had in years. We have more knowledge and awareness than we’ve ever had before – we have had Galway County Council, OPW, Ryan-Hanley and Mott MacDonald all aligned and working very hard on this. We have a dedicated and hardworking committee progressively driving this – we have had great collaboration. We have strong and sincere commitments from our public representatives, our TDs and our County Councillors.
We acknowledge people are working hard and doing their best – but we absolutely have to get this solution.
As you can see from the recent flooding, South Galway absolutely needs an immediate solution and we are coming to a critical point now – If this fails then South Galway will be having a long engagement with flooding well into the future.
We can’t let this happen so please support us here !
The waters are still rising in South Galway as many communities once again are experiencing the threat of flooding. Images of Thoor Ballylee under flood were getting plenty of comments and ire from the public – especially with the tag line ‘Are we worth it?’ . To see this priceless heritage site awash with flood scum has many people bubbling with anger.
“Work should have been done on this long ago. A bit of a disgrace!“
“This is such a beautiful area and this is so sad to see it once again being flooded “
“Such an iconic piece of history such a shame. This flood relief needs to happen sooner rather than later.”
“It’s a disgrace!! 5 years ago this happened and here we are again!!! NOTHING has been done!!!!“
Please put yourself in the shoes of the community of volunteers that have brought the castle back to its former glory, who have worked very hard, fund-raised for it, cleared and cleaned it during the last flooding, only to have to face into this again come spring time. Flooding saps the spirit and that’s what it will do here, and anywhere flooding happens.
The frustration starts to bubble when we know that there are solutions to this. Many people have mentioned controlling water upstream through better forestry practices or planting Native woodland as well as Turlough level management from mountain to sea.
In 8 weeks time we should have a Feasibility Report and we are confident that there are real solutions available which should mark the end of serious flooding in South Galway. But before we run off and celebrate, Galway County Council and the OPW need to have one question answered.
“Is South Galway Worth Saving?
Yes – That’s essentially what it comes down to! Will the benefits to the community outweigh the spend/cost? From looking at the toll that that this places on rural community, you would think so – unfortunately – it depends on how you measure the ‘benefit’.
What we do know is that the method that the OPW use to measure benefit is mainly used for urban projects and it hasn’t been quite adopted for South Galway. So, with this method, a house that floods overnight (and gone the next day) would be treated the same as a house that floods for 6 weeks. A road closed for 1 week offers a specific benefit but this doesn’t scale to community of 13 houses that is isolated for 56 days (Rinrush), or the effect of 22 roads paralyzing an entire community. Farms, farmers and farm buildings – they don’t seem to be covered by this urban-based model. Also not covered are the intangible affects on communities (and some of these are the most devastating)
Damage to physical and/or mental health, death or injury
Isolation and loss of community
Worry about flooding
Worry about loss of livelihood (farming in particular)
Damage to the environment (Coole and all the SACs)
Damage to cultural artifacts (Ballylee, Coole)
Loss of memorabilia and irreplaceable items and pets
Loss of confidence in authorities and services
The South Galway Flood Relief Project has brought a lot of analysis to bear. We know potential flooding levels, duration’s and the project consultants (Ryan Hanley) have endeavored to include as many benefits and apply it to this flooding situation – including the duration of flooding -to help get the benefit we need.
I get the impression that the Design Consultants and project team are leaving no stone unturned when it comes to interpreting the benefit of a flood relief solution to the community of South Galway. The decision what’s in and what’s out of the methodology, the ‘pruning’ on the benefits however, will be done in a dry OPW office in Dublin.
It is this very decision however that will stop or progress this project, to use the tried and tested but somewhat irrelevant methods or to adapt to the situation and use realistic measurements and to add significant weight (and benefit) to the intangibles.
Even if Cost-Benefit doesn’t measure up – who cares? Just write off the balance and get the job done. So yes, there may be a gap e.g. we could be €5-$6 million short? Would that stop the project. Absolutely – yes … if ‘Government’ doesn’t step in and sign off on it.
One thing that has been echoing all around South Galway is that the Government has already signed off of €5 Million … on fines paid to the EU Court of Justice, for the Derrybrien Windfarm debacle. It also has an an additional daily fine of €15,000).
Its just so ironic – our committees are subject to meticulous (but misfocused) measurements to proof our worth while, at the same time, so much money is being thrown away on fines for the ESB Derrybrien Windfarm. This windfarm could be contributing to the floods but its impossible to know because they didn’t to a proper Environmental Impact Analysis – which is why they got fined in the first place!
All eyes will now focus be on the Galway County Council/OPW report and it will be the responsibility of our public representatives (Ciaran Cannon, Sean Canney and Anne Rabbitte) to ensure our government (whenever it forms) bridges any gap. Maybe we should go all he way to the top and just ask President Higgins to deliver on his previous promises by presidential decree.
It’s time to finally decide the right course for South Galway. It’s time to stop revisiting this every 5 years and doing yet another expensive report. We have a real opportunity to progress a flood relief solution that will stop this recurring nightmare. Our communities are well worth saving – irrespective of any cost-benefit analysis.
Flooding in Kiltartan, Corker and Newtown – Nov 2009
When we had our local elections earlier this year – each of the candidate reported that the issue of South Galway flooding was one of the top of the issues reported from many in the community. In the past 6-8 months we had a focus meeting with Minister Moran, Minister Canney and Minister Canon, and Deputy Anne Rabbitte. Minister Moran’s promise was to ‘Leave no stone unturned’ when it came to finding solutions for South Galway. Because of delays in the Feasibility report, we held a public meeting in November to highlight our key concerns. Each of the elected representatives gave their update and outlined their past work and current commitments to the issue of flooding. Flooding was a bigger issue in the last General election because South Galway were just after a major flood in Winter 2015. So how have our elected representatives measured up since then? Have they been working on this issue? Have they been keeping it relevant and are they committed to this issue going forward?
Have our current public representatives been proactive in finding Flooding Relief solutions.
In general, the answer to this is ‘yes’. Canney, Cannon and Rabbitte in the aftermath of flooding were very focused on pushing flooding forward. Firstly, Cannon, and the new Government made a commitment to South Galway to tackle and deal with the flooding. The then Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, reformed the cabinet with a stronger focus on Flooding by creating an Minister of State for “the Office of Public Works & Flood Relief” and in charge of this he put Sean Canney (Who agreed a handover to Boxer Moran after 2 years) . Minister Canney met with SGFRC and started to firm up his approach to the project. He seconded experts in Turloughs and Hydrology (McCormick and Naughton) from TCD into GSI to start gathering the data required for the analysis and modelling of the project. He installed a dedicated Project Manager to define the Project brief and run the project. Canney’s early work and drive was essential to get the South Galway Flood Relief scheme/project up and running. It was a very tense time, when people just wanted ‘diggers in the ground’ but because of the complexity of the area, it would be years before feasible solutions would emerge.
Cannon was also active and responsive in this time, and worked closely with his County Council colleague Joe Byrne to keep flooding high on the agenda, nationally and locally and Rabbitte was responsive in getting clarification through Parliamentary questions on some of the burning issues. The SGFRC wanted to get more insight into some of the potential flooding sources and met with Minister Naughten (facilitated by Minister Canney) and Minister Doyle (Forestry) , facilitated by Minister Cannon. So overall good work getting the project up and running (which took about 1 year)
Complexities and Delays
As project progressed and complexities forced delays we did have several meetings (as indicated above) to highlight situation and to keep momentum on the project.
In general, because the project delays were due to engineering complexities there was very little political influence that could resolve the delays – however the end result needs stronger commitments.
Flooding solution Going Forward
You see, in 3 months time we will know the measure of flooding commitments because that’s when feasibility study is to be delivered. Minister Moran says he will leave no stone ‘unturned’ and the primary metric that will determine the success of this flooding – the ‘Benefit’, will be a measure of Minister Moran’s commitment.
The OPW normally uses a particular approach for measuring flood relief scheme ‘benefit’ (i.e. how much it will save) but this approach is based on the ‘Multi-Coloured Manual’ which is primarily focused on urban flooding. South Galway flooding is extremely unique (flooding for several months as opposed to hours/days) and this has been echoed by our representatives who have promised to take this uniqueness into consideration.
We need a different way of measuring benefit than the ‘urban-1 day flood’ way. In fact this is what Ryan Hanley consultants have been doing to get maximum benefit – look at the real picture and real impacts. But will they be allowed to use the real benefit or will they be locked into producing a ‘me-too’ analysis suited to urban flooding.
The decision to adapt this more relevant approach belongs to OPW (currently to Minister Moran) and one thing that we absolutely have to avoid is for OPW to turn around and say – ‘same again lads’ and throw out the actual benefit that we need.
The wheel has been turning for about 2-3 years now thanks to that initial effort by our elected representatives and the next 2 months are vital to ensuring it continues. We need them to leave no stone un-turned to get our best flood relief solution for this area.
If any election candidates turn up at your doorstep looking for your vote – see how much they know about the flooding in South Galway and whats being done. See if they intend to leave no stone un-turned in assessing the real impacts and getting the best for South Galway and getting rid of flooding once and for all.
We haven’t heard anything anything yet from new candidates. If any candidates want to send anything relevant on their position, then please do so by Tuesday 4th Feb and I’ll will put up on this blog.
One of the key drainage areas in South Galway is the The Cannahowna Catchment, which flows off the southern slopes of Slieve Aughty hills close to Derrybrien and makes its way through Derrywee, Lough Cutra, the Beagh River, the Punchbowl and on through Gort. Note : This article will primarily focus on some of uplands areas as flooding in Gort itself has been well documented and analyzed.
This is an overview of the area that we are looking at.
Overview of drainage and geography
As one of three main rivers in the Slieve Aughty western slopes, the Gort river starts off as the Owendalulleegh in the peaks of the Slieve Aughty Mountains and it winds its way down the mountain and into Lough Cutra. The catchment itself is called the Cannahowna Catchment, whose name is attributed to emergence of the Gort River from an underground cavern close to Gort – literally – the ‘Head of the river’
The catchment area is 136 Km2 and the river starts from the highest peak of the Northern Slieve Aughty mountains in an area called Cashlaundrumlahan. It is at this peak where the infamous Derrybrien windfarm is located and this high peak is the source of the Owendalulleegh River passes under the Black Road (From Derrybrien to Killeenadeema) and then swings west in the valley below Derrybrien.
The following shows the flow from Cashlaundrumlahan to the sea – over 50km away and goes underground 6 times.
The peak of the mountain, Cashlaundrumlahan, is home to a massive windfarm (71 turbines) which sites on a 4 square kilometre site. This windfarm has a controversial past – and probably a controversial future also as it was the source of an environmental disaster in the form of a bogslide.
The Owendalulleegh river (also known as the Derrywee river in some places) flows past places like Knockavana, Tooravoola, Derrybrien, Inchamore, Derrywee, Derrykeel, Chevy Chase, Laherdaun, Derreen, Gortacarnaun and finally Killafeen before if flows into Lough Cutra.
Many places here related to ‘Derry’ or its Irish ‘Doire’ which means Oak tree as well as ‘Knock’ meaning ‘cnoc’ or wood. This is a reflection of the great oak forests and woods that used to cover the Slieve Aughty Mountains. Peppered along this are many lime Kilns used for making limestone.
The Owendalulleegh river twists and turns as it flows west. There are numerous fords, steppingstones and small bridges crossing the river and in summer time – the river can be very low.
The Owendalulleegh flows into Lough Cutra, a large body of water that laps the lovely Lough Cutra Castle.
The river overflows the lake at Russaun and flows out as the Beagh River.
Unlike its predecessor, which ended in a tranquil lake, the Beagh river after a further 2km, carves deeper and deeper into the limestone land and ends up disappearing in the dramatic swallow hole. The underground system reappears just 100m in a massive collapsed circular depression called the ‘Punchbowl’.
The water drama continues as the river reappears just 250m water to the west in an emergence and flows as the Blackwater river, deep inside the ground before ending just 200m later in a Swallow hole just 10m from the Ennis Road outside Gort. It then flows underground west giving rise to collapses such as the Ladle and later the Churn before re-emerging as a full river at Cannahowna (Literally meaning – the head of the river)
This river then flows in towards Gort Town, flows under the Gort Bridge and then past Lavally/Kinnicha and towards Castletown where It disappears into 2 swallow holes.
A normal winter sees this water system transition from low summer levels to high winter flows. Unlike the other catchments, this catchment doesn’t have Turloughs, but it has a substantial body of water in Lough Cutra. Lough Cutra provides a very good natural attenuator for the Gort Lowlands. The river levels rise and some low-lying land liable to flooding around Kinincha is really the only land that suffers frequent minor flooding in this catchment.
Sometimes though, the attenuation in Lough Cutra is not enough, especially if we get multiple storms one after the other. Here we see the attenuation happening in Lough Cutra during the wettest December in 130 years – December 2015 – and the peak being Storm Desmond.
The Blue line is the height of the river at Killafeen bridge going into Lough Cutra.
The Red line is the height of the river at Russaun Bridge coming out of Lough Cutra
As Storm Desmond raged, nearly 81mm fell at Malin Head in Donegal for one 24-hour period alone, marking the dampest day at Ireland’s most northerly point since 1955. The effect on Owendalulleegh caused a 6Ft rise in the river level in just 24 hours. However, if you look at the levels at Russaun, the outlet of Lough Cutra, this is much smoother and not as spikey, 2ft around 13 hours after the input peak.
Even though there is attenuation, this peak can be too much. In 2015, while we had several winter storms, Beagh had minor flooding and Gort itself did not flood. In 2009, however we had one week of very heavy rain and this caused downstream from Lough Cutra to flood. The following graph shows the differences between the 2009 and 2015 events.
The rainfall (top of the graph) shows a much more concentrated period in November 2009 and consequently the flows from the Beagh River are much more substantial and for longer duration. It also highlights the threshold of 40M3/second flow rate which is the limit the Beagh River can reach before Gort would flood. As this level, though some parts of Beagh are already flooding.
The 2015-2016 graph does show the spike of Storm Desmond but with Lough Cutra’s attenuation it didn’t cause as much damage as the week of heavy rain did in November 2009.
2009 Flooding Situation
In 2009, the prolonged period of heavy winter rains caused Lough Cutra level to rise and increase flows in the Beagh river substantially.
Flooding in Dereen
The first flooding situation seems to happen when water rose close to the bridge in Derrywee and some roads were cut off there – but not for an extended period. The metal footbridge normally 9ft above the water, was 1ft under the water.
Flooding in Russaun, Beagh
The river emerged from Lough Cutra and flowed in the back of Cahill’s sheds (and narrowly missed the home house) and rose 2ft above road level at Russaun bridge. It continued flooding downstream and spread out flooding Kilbecanty Angling Club clubhouse and isolating the local community.
As it hit the next bridge, (Beagh), it immersed the bridge and flooded the area in the vicinity. The water rose quickly on November 26th the water rose swiftly into the home of Hugh O’ Donnell (close to the bridge) and eventually, he with his 87-year old mother, had to be air-lifted by Shannon Rescue helicopter to safety. It continued and flooded some sheds downstream and cut off access to the area.
Flooding in Gort
In 2009, as the Cannahowna river swelled Gort found itself in trouble – the water backed up around Kinincha and Ballynamantan, the Kinincha road and Crowe St. started to flood.
There was severe flooding in Crowe Street where many homes and businesses were flooded and access to the town was severely restricted.
In Beagh, one home and one business flooded, many farms and several sheds were flooded and several families were isolated for several weeks. In Gort in 2009, the town had to be bypassed to get around the flooding. Combined with general paralysis of South Galway, the businesses in the towns suffered dramatically. For the Beagh community this was like a flash-flood that never happened previously and that threatened the community and that threat is still felt by come locals to this day. There is a lot of anger and speculation on how mountain mismanagement has brought this situation.
In living memory and from previous generations, there were never any accounts of flooding to this level experienced before. While there can be potential increases due to climate change and global warming many in the local communities indicated that water is coming down from the mountain much quicker than it did in previous decades – irrespective of the weather. People have been highlighting potential links between rapid-runoff and more recent mountain development such as the Derrybrien windfarm and Coillte Forestry.
In 2003, The Derrybrien windfarm developers (ESB) without doing a proper Environment Impact Analysis for the development proceeded with development and inadvertently caused a massive landslide. The original EIA indicated that there would be no additional drainage on the 4 SQ KM site on the main Slieve Aughty Peak. After the landslide happened the developers put in place a ‘Robust-Drainage’ Scheme, which involved digging 6ft x 8ft drains from each of the 70 turbine bases to keep the mountain dry. This ‘robust-drainage’ scheme proposed ‘drainage for each access road, all turbine bases and each repository site . . . continuously for the life of the windfarm project and thereafter’. It is estimated that over 30km of drains were dug in a 4km2 site on the very top of the mountain.
It should be noted that this scheme was put in place without doing any further Environmental Impact Assessment which stated that “construction of turbine bases does not result in long-term drainage of the surrounding peat”.’
Did this have an impact on the hydrology? – sure it did, but they never did this required analysis as part of their EIA. In fact, there is a compelling argument that a ‘robust-drainage’ scheme employed after the Derrybrien Windfarm Landslide in 2003-2004 altered the hydrology of the catchment.
Similarly, 263 Hectares of forestry were clear-felled in one sweep and there were other sites undergoing afforestation.
Trinity College as part of a study involving looking at forestry practices noted that clear-felling (and subsequent planting) can increase run-off by over 18%. It can also take several years before there is a balance and trees that are matured (>15 years) help to attenuate runoff from the site.
A positive number here means that the operation increases run-off by that amount. A negative number means that run-off is decreased. Historically as part of the Slieve Aughty mountain management – there was no proper impact analysis done on the increase of run-off into the Cannahowna catchment, which was (and is) contrary to planning regulations and environmental impact assessments. Within a few years of this ‘robust drainage scheme’ and clear-felling – communities downstream about 20km from the Windfarm flooded for the first time recorded – Coincidence?
I doubt it!
The main solution to flooding in Beagh and Gort is to manage the mountain properly and ensure that the right mitigations are put in place to alleviate any flooding risk. Several newer windfarm developments now include attenuation measures to dampen and mitigate their impacts but this hasn’t been part of the Derrybrien (or Kilchreest) Windfarm development. This could yet be part of the retrospective mitigation measures that need to be addressed as part of the ongoing European Court Order (The one where we are fined €15,000 a day until this problem is addressed)
Mature forestry can decrease run-off times and could be used to good effect to mitigate flood relief.
There needs to be an overall Slieve Aughty catchment management strategy that has a plan for each of the sub-catchments. From a forestry perspective, this is something that the South Galway Flood Relief Committee has recommended to the Irish Forest Service and Coillte and there has already been some policy change for forestry operations in the Slieve Aughty. This needs to be broader and more sustainable over the next 30-40 years to ensure that the right level of forestry canopy is maintained to ensure a positive flood relief impact.
The solution here is that on a per-catchment basis (Owenshree, Boleyneendorrish and Cannahowna) there has to be a balanced approach across the life-cycle of the forestry. By ensuring there is a significant canopy of mature trees to counter any felling and reforestation operations this is the only real sustainable solution going forward.
Changing the hydrology of the upper Slieve Aughty Catchments will have a definite impact on the downstream catchment and there are communities at risk here. There has been no hydrology analysis of these impacts and by ignoring planning regulations and European law – these operations are essentially illegal.
The Derrybrien Windfarm European Court order is compelling our Government (through heavy fines) to right the wrongs that have been done here in the past and put some mitigations in place now that should have been part of the original Windfarm Development.
Mountain operations (not only Forestry practices) and must now be analyzed and crafted such that there is positive flood relief benefit for the overall South Galway catchments.
Anything less will leave our communities exposed and will allow leave our Government and various departments exposed to yet another European fines. The Derrybrien Windfarm debacle has send a very clear and sharp message to our Government bodies, windfarm and forestry developers that the real impacts on the community must be taken into consideration or there will be severe financial consequences. We now need to shine the light on current operations and ensure that they adopt a more sustainable approach to the Slieve Aughty Mountains.
A mood of cautious optimism was present at the meeting on Thursday night. A rigorous scientific approach to the project one one hand but South Galway has been here before and not failed as the first hurdle.
A mood of cautious optimism was present at the meeting on Thursday night. A rigorous scientific approach to the project, a different approach to cost-benefit, strong drive by the SGFRC and strong support by our local representatives all pointing in the right direction. David Murray, Chair of SGFRC cautioned however that we have been here many times before and right now we need focus and comprehensive support to get this over the line.
A public meeting was held on Thu 28th November to give an update on the South Galway Flood Relief project. The project had been running for 2 years and has had significant delays but is finally close to producing it’s first deliverable – a feasibility report that outlines flood relief solutions options and costings.
The meeting was attended by over 100 people and before the update began a slide-show ran through newspaper archives with titles like “They Fear the Winter Floods (1948)”, “Farmers in South Galway to ‘Grin and Bear’ the floods”(1992), “Record Rains bring Extensive Flooding (1993). As well as headlines of the many promises and highlights
“This is the most important step in the process of solving the problem of flooding in South Galway”, said Mr Michael D. Higgins, T.D., Minister for Arts, Culture and Gaeltacht, yesterday.
“It is the most comprehensive study and remedies to be put in place will be long-term”. Minister Higgins went on to say that the Government is giving the South Galway Situation top priority.
Connacht Tribune Friday, March 17, 1995
This sobering and sometimes depressing look at the legacy of flooding in South Galway set a tone of pessimism even before the meeting started and was underscored by David Murray, chair of the South Galway Flood Relief Committee. He showed Gort and South Galway 10 years to the day of the 2009 flooding disaster that hit.
The first focus on the meeting was a project update and Murray set about bring facts about to burst the myth that nothing has been done – he indicated that plenty has a lot has been done but it’s all mainly scientific analysis of Turlough and rainfall and solutions to break the mystery of how South Galway floods and how these floods can be alleviated predictably. It is anticipated that follow-on solutions will be simple but assured.
The build-up to this project started in summer 2016 where Minister Sean Canney requested that Galway County Council become the lead agency in progressing a flood-relief solution and the OPW approved funding to develop a project brief and assign a full-time project manager for this scheme. The project manger was not appointed until January and it took almost 8 months to publish the brief which was done in August 2017. The project was put to tender and Ryan Hanley were the Design Consultants while Mott MacDonald were the selected as the Environmental Consultants.
To supplement this team hydrology experts were seconded from Trinity into GSI to develop and build the scientific foundations of this project making it by far the most complex flood relief project to be every undertaken in Ireland. This presented many challenges due the unique Geology of the area with unique circumstances and there needed to be some new approach and groundbreaking methods developed – all of which is making the initial phase of this project unpredictable
The Cost-Benefit measurements that are used for most flood relief projects are typically applied to urban areas where flooding comes and goes within a short duration and road is closed for a few hours, days or weeks. It doesn’t make sense to try and apply this to an area of hundreds of Sq km where whole communities can be isolated for months.
And the original timelines was for Stage #1/ Feasibility Study to be finished in December 2018. This has now moved to April 2019. Which is a slippage of over 15 months. This is the main focus for now because if the project doesn’t pass Feasibility Stage then there’s not point in talking about diggers on the ground.
The feasibility study is all about analysing current and future flooding scenarios – levels & impacts and investigating solutions and their potential savings (benefits) and cost as well as environmental aspects. These will then be presented to Minister for OPW/Flood Relief who can then bring to public consultation. The report typically contains;
Flood Relief Measures Options Assessment
Flood maps, channels, flows
Detailed plans of proposed works
Identify Preferred Options
Preliminary Cost v’s Benefit
Environmental Impact Assessments and proposed mitigations
But how do we do this for South Galway with its hidden underground rivers and connectivity? This connectivity needs to be analysed using a lot of data analysis and finally build into a hydrology models.
Build a hydrology Model of the Catchment!
Survey the Catchment (Homes, Farms, Business, Roads)
Build a rainfall Model for 1000 years
Run the model and see the effects on flooding over next 1000 years
Craft and check solutions (channels, attenuation) to see impact
Manage and Tweak out for Environmental Constraints
Produce several options and their Costings and Savings (Benefit)
This involved looking at different flood relief options including
Attenuation of Flood Flows in the Slieve Aughty Hills
Karst Drainage Maintenance Works
Diversion of Flood Flows from High Flood Risk Areas
Alleviate Flood Levels with Flood Relief Channels and Culverts
Individual Property Protection
Modelling and Tweaking
The main unpredictable activities so far have been
The development of the hydrology model and get the right set of data to ensure an accurate model and the calibration of this model to give an accurate result
The development of a rainfall model with climate change incorporated, which included simulations of 1000s of years rainfall which took over a month to complete.
The analysis of upland attenuation and salinity analysis of Kinvara Bay based on public consultation.
The integration and constant tweaking of some the above solutions e.g. profiling land and updating resizing of culverts. Over 1000 of these designs were simulated each one taking between 30 minutes and 4 hours to run.
So we have very accurate models now and several solution have been explored, including looking at alternate channels through several places from mountain to the sea. This has now spawned off more detailed analysis and works around certain areas including:
Kinvara Bay to Upland areas.
Cahermore Flood Alleviation Works.
Caherglassaun & Coole Flood Relief Works
Tierneevin and South West Area Flood Relief Works
Kiltartan Flood Relief Works
Labane & Environs Flood Relief Works
Ballyloughaun and Castletown Flood Relief Works
Gort Town (Lower) Flood Relief Works
Rinrush & Ballylee Flood Relief Works
Skehanagh & Blackrock Flood Relief Works
Termon (south) and Cregaclare (north) Flood Relief Works
It may have been obvious at the start, but the South Galway Flood relief scheme is 10-12 interdependent localised schemes – and without a full hydrology model it would have been impossible to promote any individual scheme as it’s impact on the other schemes would have been unpredictable. The approach by Galway County council, Design Consultants, Trinity and GSI is to use science to accurately predict the impact solutions have.
One other aspect to mention here is that it with this type of modelling it is also possible to understand the impacts of flood relief solution on duration of flooding and Ryan Hanley are looking to utilise this data to increasing the benefit of flood relief solutions – something that would have been impossible to predict without the model.
In summary this approach:
Provides a much more realistic assessment of potential solutions – well into the future
Allows a full assessment from mountain to sea of solutions and their impacts
Allows assessments of environmental concerns
Provides real data that can help to add more budget for the project.
Overall these are very positive aspects but the complexities of this analysis it what has been contributing to the project delays.
For this stage of the project the feasibility
All modelling is to be completed before end of November 2019
Commence works on Feasibility Study in conjunction with the Environmental Consultant
Submit Feasibility Report Q1 2020
Complete all Stage 1 works in Q2 2020 (Environmental Impact Assessment Report, Hydrology & Hydraulic Reports, Draft Flood Risk Management Plan, Valuation Survey to determine all land owners to be affected by works)
The project will proceed to Public Exhibition in Q3 2020
The key risks to the project are :
Infeasible Cost-Benefit Analysis
Infeasible Cost-Benefit Analysis
If environmental constraints cannot be mitigated then there is not way for the project to proceed unless it goes through an IROPI process.
Response from Elected Representatives
Minister Sean Canney
Minister Canney outlined how in his role as Minister for OPW and Flooding kickstarted this project and assigned a full-time engineer to this. He also got GSI and Trinity involved at an early stage to ensure this project got the specific scientific backing it needed. Even though he has switched Ministries, he has been consistently pushing a flood relief solution for this flood relief agenda.
Minster Canney was recently involved in progressing the Rinrush scheme and he noted that the recent announcement of investment can be taken as the first indication of works emerging from this project. He indicated that Galway County Council has probably the best record in the country of applying for minor works applications for flood relief but with this project it was difficult to work on something which could take away the overall benefit for the flood scheme. He suggested that the Rinrush investment was giving a statement of intent from the government and Boxer Moran and that it is likely this will be funded from the overall flood relief project.
Minister Canney reaffirmed his commitment to see this project through to the last.
Minister Ciaran Canon
Minister Canon was not available due to ministerial duties but sent on a statement to be read on the night. He indicated that he invited Minister Kevin Boxer Moran to visit South Galway on the 12th of July last and he had the opportunity to meet with the South Galway Flood Relief Committee and local public representatives. He highlighted that the meeting was very successful in making Minister Moran aware of our determination to bring this scheme to a successful conclusion as quickly as possible. He indicated that Minister Moran remains unwavering in his commitment to address flooding situation in South Galway.
Minister Cannon also indicated that he worked with Minister Moran to secure funds for the Rinrush access project and to demonstrate the seriousness of our intent. Minister Moran subsequently committed €75,000 in funding for that emergency access road into Rinrush and that the project will get underway immediately.
Regarding the Derrybrien Windfarm debacle, Minister Canon has indicted that he is engaging directly with the ESB, with Minister Bruton and with Minister Murphy to ensure that when this environmental analysis commences, the community of South Galway will be consulted with extensively.
At this point in the project, all of us, the South Galway Flood Relief Committee, the OPW, Galway Co. Council, our local public representatives, our local communities and our government, we need to continue working in a spirit of genuine partnership to see this project through to fruition. Bear in mind that not one of these partners wants to even contemplate failure this time around. We are all driven by an ambition to succeed. None of us wants to bear witness ever again to the devastation visited upon so many vulnerable people. I am convinced that if we approach this challenge in that spirit of partnership we will succeed. From my own perspective, I will not rest until we do. This has been, and remains, my number one political priority as a representative of this region.
Minister Moran gave a statement which was read out as part of Minster Canon’s statement.
As you are all aware, the combination of river water, groundwater, swallow holes and turloughs in the Gort Lowlands catchment makes this area unique on an international level. Due to the intricate nature of the area, Trinity College Dublin and Geological Surveys Ireland have been contributing to the development of the Scheme.
The fact that this project is the first in the country to deal with so many variables over a 270 sq km area, has led to considerable slippage in the original timeframe. Though unfortunate, these could not be avoided due to the intricate and complex modelling which is required before the Feasibility Study can be undertaken. South Galway Flood Relief Committee were advised of this on 25th September by the project engineer.
It is vital that when we seek to move to the next stage of the project, we can stand over the quality of the research that has been done. This research, which has cost close to half a million euro to date, is the foundation upon which we will build the whole flood relief project. This is why the project team members are being as thorough as possible in their examination of all aspects at this stage of the project, as any oversights or omissions at this time could prove detrimental at a later phase of the project. Yes we have lost out on some time, but when it comes to the two critical aspects of this project, cost benefit analysis and environmental analysis I am convinced that this will have been time well spent in getting our preparations right.
Minister Moran also informed Minster Canon that the project will now proceed to Public Exhibition in Q3 of 2020, with a view to construction getting underway in late 2021, a deadline which he stressed cannot be missed and which Minister Moran completely agreed with.
An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar
Minister Canon also met with An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during the week to discuss this priority and was very aware of how much it means to me and of the need to ensure that we have no further delays. He sent the following statement to Minister Canon.
“Can you please relay these words to the meeting in Gort. I know that my predecessor Taoiseach Enda Kenny visited South Galway in January of 2016, and seeing at first hand the devastation visited upon communities there, he committed to providing a lasting solution. I am equally determined to ensure that the OPW is properly resourced to provide that flood relief solution for South Galway. That is why our government will spend €1 billion on flood relief over the next decade under Project Ireland 2040, our national development plan. We are intent on delivering flood relief solutions that work for all of our communities who have been so badly impacted in the past.”
Deputy Anne Rabbitte
Deputy Rabbitte was not available on the night as she had previous commitments for that night. She had indicated well before the meeting that she was disappointed that she could not make it as she has been involved deeply in this issue. She had a brief statement read on the night.
She stated that it’s a sad reflection of the government’s lack of actionthat the issue of flooding has been rumbling on for so long.
She was a bit more skeptical of the ability of the project to deliver to a rural community. When questioned at the July 12th Meeting with the SGFRC if OPW had ever delivered a rural project like this Minister Boxer Moran indicated that they hadn’t because of Cost-Benefit issues.
Regarding the wind farms, Deputy Rabbitte questioned the Government response (or lack thereof) on this and when she asked parliamentary questions to clarify the situation pre-penalty she got neither. She stated that the government undoubtedly have questions to answer on this issue.
Deputy Rabbitte has been involved with South Galway flooding situation and has asked many parliamentary questions to draw more focus to South Galway flooding. One of her commitments to the communities of South Galway was to be able to bring the communities voice right to the government front door and asked people to do so and liase with Cllr Finnerty or Cllr Kinane.
She praised the efforts of the South Galway Flood relief committed but asked to ensure planning of public meetings includes candidate’s availability.
Councillor Joe Byrne, PJ Murphy and Gerry Finnerty gave their strong support for the project. Cllr. Byrne said that this is an item on the monthly Galway County Council Municipal Meeting agenda. He also stated that for Rinrush, the funds have been released for the very start of this but we need to push this through and get the complete development.
Cllr Finnerty indicated that Galway County Council have already spent a lot of money on this so far and that level of investment should also give further momentum to the project.
Cllr Murphy indicated that Galway County Council have had a very complex development on their hands and that they are doing all they can to progress their project.
David Murray, SGFRC concluded as follows:
There has been a lot of work done to date on the project – though it may be hard to see this
Focus is Feasibility over the next 3-4 months – Murray warned that we have been here many times before but haven’t been successful and warned that if this project fails feasibility and it gets consigned to another report – there will be outrage.
He urged the community to keep this on the agenda and demand solutions here
He showed a reminder of what happened ‘one’ of the times we got another failed report.