Letter of Complaint : Forestry Impacts on South Galway Flooding

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The following is a lettter of complaint sent to the Irish Forest Service on  12th February 2017 sent by the South Galway Flood Relief Committee . The PDF can be found here:

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A subsequent meeting was arrange with Minister Doyle that will be outlined in detail shortly.

Overview

South Galway over the past 30 years has suffered a number of severe flooding events that have brought many communities into severe crisis.  The area of South Galway has unique hydrological characteristics in that waters draining from the Slieve Aughty Mountains must travel several times underground on the journey to the sea. These underground channels are fixed capacity so any changes to natural hydrology can promote severe flooding.

Irish Forestry guidelines for Forest management, which recommends during deforestation and site preparation getting water off the mountain as rapidly as possible and in the maximum direction of the slope is causing a change in mountain hydrology.  This is also being reflected by local knowledge of water coming off the mountain much quicker than ever before.

South Galway with its unique geology and drainage has many Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Specially Protected Areas (SPAs) that are protected by the EU Habitats directive.  There are also Water Framework Directives and EU Flood Directives which aim to ensure that Water quality and quantity is managed and controlled through River Basin Management.

It is our understanding that there are significant planning application gaps, such as Environmental Impact Assessments mandatory for forestry practice, incomplete for the Slieve Aughty Mountain plantation process as current operations on this site change the hydrology dynamic and causes uncontrollable flooding within the river basin. We believe that EIAs that have been completed over the number of years have neglected to consider the impact on the downstream catchment areas that include some 21 SACs and this runs contrary to EU and Irish National legalisation.

We therefore demand that all forestry practice that affects the hydrology dynamic of the Slieve Aughty catchment area ceases until proper hydrological studies have been done, mitigation measures have been put in place and there is full monitoring of this via more comprehensive EIAs (or other)

 

South Galway Profile

From a South Galway perspective, the Slieve Aughty Mountains are the source of 3 primary rivers that flow westwards toward the sea at Kinvara.  These are the Ownshree, Boleyneendorish and the Owendalulleegh rivers as shown in the diagram.

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The most unique feature of this landscape is that the rock changes from sandstone to limestone and many of the rivers flow underground (highlighted in dotted green here) . Many of these areas have Turloughs (Most are SACs) that can swell in normal winters.  The following diagram describes the profile of the Owenshree River to the sea – which may go underground 6 times during its course to the sea.

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There is one simple fact for the underground river channels – They have a limited capacity for water drainage.   Some swallow holes (where water sinks) in the Grannagh are only 1 ft square and this can only sink at a certain rate.  Water flow rates also depend on Turlough levels as water pressures rises and drops across the underground network.

This makes the whole South Galway area extremely sensitive to change in hydrological dynamics (Hydromorphological changes) of the Slieve Aughty Mountains.

There are many potential impacts:

  • Increased rate of water of water coming off the mountains will causing flash flooding in areas around the immediate vicinity such as Castledaly, BlackRock, Skehana, Ballylee, Castletown and Beagh. The swallow-holes simply cannot manage large peak flows efficiently
  • Any overall increase in volume of water descending the mountain due to changes in water storage capability in the Slieve Aughty Mountains –

 

Also, the impact of effects of climate change (e.g. increased rainfall) may be exacerbated by Hydromorphological changes from forestry best practice.

 

While these impacts are felt keenly by the local communities being subject to severe flooding, the impacts will also threaten the Conservation Objectives of a large number of SACs which are protected under the EU ‘Habitats’ directive.

 

Water Directive Framework/Irish Forestry Code of Best Practice

The Irish ‘Water Framework Directive, Western River Basin District, Programme of Measures and Standards For Forest and Water’ gives an overview of potential pressures on water from forests and forest activities together with the pathways and possible receptors involved. It highlights that forests may give rise to negative pressure on aquatic ecosystems but that proper forestry management can deliver programmes of measures with positive benefits.  Section 4.7 introduces potential pressures from Hydromorphological Change.  It states that;

Where forests are established in the catchment area of water abstractions or water dependent habitats and species potential impacts on the water resource may occur both with reduced flow levels and reduced water table and also through washout with increased and more rapid flood peak height.

It indicates that there may be hydrological changes due to site preparation, clear-felling.  In particular to clear-felling it states that there can be substantial increases in hydraulic flow (e.g. 15%) which can give rise to can give rise to “stream surge resulting in physical (hydro-morphological) impacts in receiving streams leading to bank erosion and stream widening. The pressure potential may be more pronounced for older forest stands which are clear-felled due to the absence of buffer zones and drainage networks extending into the aquatic zone.”

Another area of concern is restocking (replanting) of felled sites, which is a legal requirement under Irish Forestry act.  This is described as:

Restocking generally requires some initial site preparation. This may involve windrowing of brash, upgrading of former drainage systems to comply with current guidelines and appropriate cultivation of the sites where necessary.  … Scrap mounding between windrows is sometimes practised to provide a planting medium.  Restocking is carried out in accordance with the principles set out in the Forest Service suite of Guidelines, the Code of Best Forest Practice and the Forestry Schemes Manual.

In the Code of Best Forest Practice – Ireland, Forest Service 2000,  Section 5.7, under ‘Site Preparation’ it states

The objective of forest drainage is to prevent the soil water rising into and saturating the root zone and waterlogging the soil. By maintaining the water table below the root zone, drainage promotes deep rooting, improves tree anchorage and strengthens the soil. It may also prevent the build-up of soil pore water pressure, which can occur during windy conditions, resulting in hydraulic fracture of the soil and wind-throw. To be successful, forest drainage must remove surplus water rapidly and must be designed against the cause of saturation and waterlogging.

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It describes the different methods of drainage e.g. mounding, tunnelling with the most common method being ‘mounding’ and it states: “Drains should run in the direction of maximum slope and feed into collector drains spaced approximately 80 m apart.”

It is therefore very clear that there will be a significant hydromorphological change (this is even highlighted within the forestry code of best practice guidelines i.e. “remove surplus water rapidly”).

The impact that this has on an area with unique karst geology with multiple underground rivers has never been researched or studied and therefore it is impossible to state that there is no impact of these hydromorphological changes.

 

South Galway Situation

South Galway over the past 30 years has suffered a number of severe flooding events that have brought many communities into severe crisis.  In winter 2015, over 35 homes were flooded, over 25 farm buildings flooded, over 200 farms were flooded and over 22 roads closed for a combined total of 1733 days.  The area has been having substantial flooding since 1990 with 5-6 several flood events.  Over 15 homes have been flooded and permanently closed since 1990 and that number continues to increase.

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There is no doubt that there is a serious increase in how fast and how much water is coming off the mountain during heavy rainfall.  There is measureable correlation between heavy rainfall and an immediate increase in river water levels.

  • Within 4 hours, some of the Slieve Aughty Rivers can rise over 1 metre.
  • With 36 hours, Blackrock Turlough can rise over 10 metres and extend over 2km.

This rapid run-off has an immediate impact on the area around Castledaly, Grannagh, Peterswell, Skehana, Blackrock, Ballylee, Deerpark, Rinrush, Castletown and then continues into the Gort lowlands of Kiltartan, Coole, Tieneevin, Caherglassaun, Killomoran, Cahermore and Kinvara.

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Snapshot of flooding (Courtesy of Sean Brady Aerial Photography)image011

The flooding of these communities also has a direct impact on the many SACs, habitats and protected species e.g.  In the picture here we see Coole Lake, within an SAC overflowing into a farmyard in Tierneevin and becoming polluted – this situation breaks the Coole-Garryland SAC’s Conservation Objective and this is just one SAC of 21 in the area.

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Clarifications/Actions

The South Galway Flood Relief Committee, on behalf of the many communities between Slieve Aughty and the Sea, demand the following clarifications and actions from the Forest Service.

Statistics

  1. Provide clarification and statistics relating to past, present and future forestry operations on Slieve Aughty:
  2. What is the history of planting in Slieve Aughty? Year by year/by catchment
  3. What is the history of felling in Slieve Aughty? Year by year/by catchment
  4. Can you provide yearly graph of % forest age in 5 year increments (0-5,5-10,…)
  5. What the expected lifetime of a forest – planting to felling? Has this changed in the past 30 years?

Forestry Code of Best Practice

  1. When did the code of best practice last get updated? When is it due for an update?
  2. How many inspections/audits have been carried on forestry operations to see if licensees adhere to code of best practice (year by year)
  3. Has this code ever been enforced?
  4. What is predominant form of drainage when preparing or replanting?
  5. What is the recommended depth of a drain (when mounding?)

Environment Impact Assessments

  1. Have any mandatory assessment been carried out regarding the impact of hydromorphological changes of the Slieve Aughty mountains due to forestry management (planting, felling, replanting) on the downstream hydrological dynamics of a karst area
  2. If so, have any assessments highlighted the impact of the 21 SACs that are in the Slieve Aughty catchment?
  3. Please provide us with the last 10 EIAs on Slieve Aughty
  4. Have the NPWS ever provided recommendations/advice on an EIA relating to forestry operations on Slieve Aughty? Has Forest service heeded recommendations?
  5. Have the NPWS ever queried an EIA on impact of hydromorphological changes on Slieve Aughty?

 

Water Framework Directive

  1. Have Forest Service implemented WFD Management action FM7 – “Comprehensive review of all Codes of Practice, Guidance Documents and Forestry Schemes Manual to ensure cross referencing, reflection of developments in legislation, policy, environmental objectives and environmental findings as appropriate?
  2. In relation to Slieve Aughty forests, have Forest Service implemented Management action WFD FM 8– “Establish a scheduled review process with predetermined time intervals (annually, biannually etc) to maintain this suite of documents in an up to date state.”
  3. In relation to Slieve Aughty forests, have Forest Service implemented Measures WFD  FH 1– “Audit existing drainage network before harvesting (part of existing application)”
  4. In relation to Slieve Aughty forests, have Forest Service implemented Measures WFD  FH 3– “Redesign of drainage network on sites for restocking)” to minimise contribution to peak flow and increase time period to peak flow. Reduce risk of washout.?
  5. In relation to Slieve Aughty forests, have Forest Service implemented Measures WFD  FH 4 – “Research  control of flow regime changes from forest cover for sensitive receptors  to  limit impact on water balance which could affect habitats, species or uses associated with protected areas?

 

Going Forward

  1. What are the objectives of the Irish Forest Service in terms of clarification on impacts of Hydromorphological changes on the Slieve Aughty due to forestry management?
  2. What are the objectives of the Irish Forest Service in terms of clarification on mitigation measures for Hydromorphological changes on the Slieve Aughty?
  3. What are the objectives of the Irish Forest Service in terms of updating guidelines on Forestry best practice?
  4. What are the objectives of the Irish Forest Service in terms of monitoring and enforcement of these guidelines?
  5. What are the timeframes for availability and implementation of these objectives?

 

The SGFRC support forestry operations in Ireland.  We support Irish Forestry code of best practice for forestry as a resource. However, if Irish Forest Service code of best practice involves ‘getting water off the mountains as rapidly as possible’ then either the Irish Forest Service invest in solutions that will transport this water safely to the sea or Irish Forest Service incorporates mitigation measure to attenuate water.

Mitigation measures have been proven and seen very good success in areas like Pickering, UK which planned and successfully implemented a ‘Slow-the-flow’ project:

http://www.forestry.gov.uk/fr/INFD-7ZUCL6

It is our understanding that mandatory guidelines on both EIAs and WFD will be fully implemented by Irish Forest Services and licensees.  However, if any aspect of relevant EIAs, or the WFD have not been dealt with sufficiently by the Forest Service or licensees, then we demand that forestry practices that have a hydromorphological impact cease until proper hydrological studies, informed Environmental Impact Assessments and WFD measures can be completed and fully implemented.

The SGFRC would like to meet up with the Irish Forest Service as soon as possible to discuss these topics. 

Yours Sincerely,

-David Murray,

Chair,      South Galway Flood Relief Committee,    086-8097223

South Galway Flooding Update

The following blog gives an update of the status of the South Galway Flood Relief project including the scope, the process, the timeline and the key issues.

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Minister Sean Canney, Eugene Nolan (SGFRC), Deputy Ciaran Cannon, Councillor Michael Fahy, David Murray(SGFRC) , Councillor Gerry Finnerty, Anne Rabbitte TD, Joe Byrne Councillor, Richard Dooley (OPW)

What is a project brief? Why do we need this?

Galway County Council (GCC) is the lead agency with responsibility to progress  flood-relief solution for South Galway and the Gort lowlands. However GCC (or the OPW) doesn’t have the resources or skills to design a full flood-relief solution and therefore will not be involved directly in the design or construction of flood relief solutions. It needs to hire experts that can do this and because this will be sourced from public funds, it needs to go through an approved tendering process.  In order for companies to come up with a proposal for the tendered works, which includes the cost and timeline for the solution the project has to be well defined and scoped.

The ‘Project Brief’ defines a high level scope of work for the project, process, deliverables, Cost-Benefit methodology etc.  It is a high-level definition of the project and is the starting point for any flood relief design scheme.

At the time of writing the project brief is going through its final stages of completion but the South Galway Flood Relief Committee (SGFRC), in close collaboration with Galway County Council were able to do a high level review and give some initial feedback and present some aspects and concerns at a public meeting on 27th Match 2017.  This is a very important juncture because once the brief has been decided, then the tendering consultants will have to work within the scope of works.

What does the South Galway/Gort Lowlands project brief cover?

The first thing that a brief must consider is the area for study.  For South Galway/Gort Lowlands – this has worked out quite simple –  it is defined as the main catchment area to the west of the Slieve Aughty mountains.  This is where flooding will be analyzed and solutions developed.  The scope is ‘Slieve Aughty to the sea’ and includes the main river catchments of the Owenshree, Boleyneendorish (Peterswell, Ballylee) and Owendalulleegh (Beagh) rivers. This will include Castleboy, Grannagh, Blackrock, Skehanna, Rinrush, Castletown, Beagh, Gort, Kiltartan, Raheen, Corker, Coole, Crannagh, Newtown, Tierneevin, Roo, Tarmon, Ballynastaig, Caherglassaun, Killamoran, Cahermore, Caherawooneen to Kinvara Bay – in other words the main Slieve Aughty to the sea and other satellite areas such as Tarmon and Roo.

 

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What about the sea at Kinvara?  While the project scope deals with works within the defined boundary any solution proposal is obliged to take impact of works downstream into account – in this case the sea at Kinvara.

What about Ballyboy/Ballyglass?  While Ballyboy/Ballyglass is close to the catchment (and has minor flows into the catchment) – the compelling solution seems to be with linking it up to the Aggard stream as part of the Dunkellin works.  The OPW has stated that this will happen on year 3 of Dunkellin scheme.

What about the role of GSI?

If you didn’t catch Dr Ted McCormick’s excellent presentation then we need to organise another one in the near future. GSI is applying real and relevant science to help to get a proper solution.  The underground system is very complex and Dr McCormick and his colleague Dr Owen Naughton can well be considered world experts in this area.  They have extensice research done to-date on South Galway and they are intending to supplement this.  While there are currently many Turlough’s monitored in South Galway, they have liased with the local community and SGFRC and installed many additonal monitors to measure other Turlough levels to enhance their understanding of the regions. The following diagram shows the current (yellow) and new (red) monitors.

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GSI Turlough Monitors in South Galway (Red = New)
GSI have access to LIDAR data which gives them a very accurate topology of the South Galway region (down to the centimetre levels) and they can build advanced mathematical models that model the way water moves through South Galway underground river system.  Once they have models calibrated accurately they can do several things:

  • Run through a range of extreme weather events and predict the flooding potential. This includes built-in climate change increases in rainfall for extreme weather events.
  • Look at the effects of different solutions on these flooding events.

There are different what-if scenarios that can be applied and this analysis becomes a fundamental input into the hold costing v’s benefits of differing solution proposals.

GSI will be providing this hydrology modelling as a service to the design consultants which should reduce the overall consulting costs.  Note : The hydrology modelling GSI will provide will be mainly for the lowlands only.  The hydrology analysis of mountain solutions will be up to the design consultants to do.

What is the overall solution design process?

One of the very positives things about this project brief is that …

  • The result of project completion is flood relief solution – not a study. There are enough studies and reports done. This project is about producing solutions, not paperwork
  • The design consultants are there from design to handover. They are not there  just for just producing a design – they have to oversee the construction and handover also, so will have more involvement throughout the process

The design process is outlined below. (Note there is also an environmental process that runs in parallel but not outlined below)

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The key parts are

  • Project Brief : This the project definition as defined above.
  • Feasibility: The collection of data (flooding, residences etc) , engagement and communications with local community  and the development of high-level options.
  • Design/EIS and Screening : Engineering Design, preliminary cost-benefit analysis and EIS & Screening  for appropriate assessments.  Valuation survey for homes,lands affected.
  • Formal Public Consultation: Preferred solutions will be exhibited to the public over a number of weeks.
  • Tenders : Construction companies will tender and be selected for the construction work
  • Construction : The solutions will be constructed
  • Handover : Handover of works and closeout

 

What is the timeline?

The preliminary timeline for the project is

  1. Feasibility starting in August 2017
  2. Diggers on the ground in 2020
  3. Project complete by 2022

Here is a preliminary timeline:

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This project could be accelerated by decreasing feasibility and construction timelines but could also be lengthened by approvals, appeals etc.

How is this financed?

Any public spending need to go through a formal review process and for flood relief solutions there has to be justification of spending X to get a benefit of Y.  This is typically not a 1:1 ratio (although it can vary)  but for projects like this it is not surprising to require a much larger benefit to justify the spend.   This is called the Cost-Benefit ratio and can be 1 to 1.6 – Which means, for example, if you have a cost of €10 million, you will have to have a solution benefit of at least €16 million.

For flood relief projects one of the key benefits is saving a home from being flooded and this could have benefits of e.g. €200,000.  If 100 homes were flooded this could lead to benefit of €20 Million and therefore  a cost spend of around €12.5 could be justified.     There are of course other benefits such as saving businesses flooding, saving farms flooding,  saving roads from flooding, saving the environment, SACs, saving heritage  but how these benefits map to the overall monetary benefit is under intense scrutiny and discussed later on.

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The project brief references an OPW cost-benefit analysis methodology based on what is known as the ‘Multi-Coloured Manual’  but while this has been highlighted as highly applicable for areas of high residential (urban) areas, but not suited to rural areas. (I think it was originally developed by University of Oxford in 1957 and while it has gone through many changes – the OPW has taken a very narrow view of it that limits its applicability to areas such as South Galway e.g. it may be easy to get a positive CBA result in a town where 1KM of river threatens 200 properties but a lot more difficult to get a positive CBA in a rural area of 100 KM of river that flood 40 properties.

Let’s dive into some of the key concerns a bit more.

What are the key concerns?

In analysis of this project here are 3 key concerns.

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Mountain Management
  • Timeline/Emergency Flood Relief

Concern #1  : Cost-Benefit Analysis Concerns

Our main concern that we highlighted in the public meeting on 27th March 2017 was that  – simply put – if the Cost-Benefit analysis did not work out then this project would not be viable.   In fact, when looking at tangible (economic) benefits, for the proposed methodology – it’s mainly homes that would dictate the allowable spend but when we look at human health and the environment around the South Galway area we have to have a different approach.  Allowing water to consistently flood homes, farms, businesses and pollute water and the environment probably goes against everything that the European Commission on the environment stands for.  We have EU water framework directives, EU Flood directive, EU habitats directive and they have become extremely important to the delivery of a flood solution.

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Using the Environment to hammer out Cost-Benefit-Analysis

With massive unassessed changes to hydrology on our mountain region (more later)  the Irish Government is more than likely infringing on these directives which will result in severe fines in the coming years.

While this may not be great news for the Irish Government, it is good news for South Galway Flooding and could well be the factor that stops us talking about a 1 : 1.6 cost-benefit monetary ratio to something more aligned to inclusive of environmental benefits.  Whatever realistic way that this happens – it must happen.     When asked directly by Bridie Willers – “Will Cost-Benefit-Analysis stop this project from progressing “,  Minister Canney stated simply  ‘No’.  The Minister and the OPW are currently reviewing the Cost-Benefit methodology and despite not having a fixed dated the Minister reaffirmed that it won’t stop the project from progressing.

Bridie Willers, asked explicitly – “Will Cost-Benefit-Analysis stop this project from progressing”

Minister Canney explicitly stated –  ‘No’.

South Galway flooding Update Meeting, 27th March 2017

The other variable that is in flux is the number of homes that a flood relief solution will help. This will link back to the analysis that GSI is doing.  The South Galway community is looking for realism in terms of translating  current rainfall events into real flooding impacts.  When we run 100 years into the future and we throw ever increasing extreme weather events into the picture we will see that Gort town will flood again. We will see Blackrock, Skenanna, Kiltartan, Coole , Gort, all flooding badly.  The 35 houses threatened last winter may be added to another 20 houses that could also be flooded within the next 100 years. These will have to be added to solution benefits for the CBA.

CBA however is also sensitive to loses of benefit e.g every home relocated is deducted from the benefit. The new M18 will also reduce benefit as people won’t need to come through Labane. However, this may turn out a benefit it we see the Motorway flooding in the hydrology models.

Concern #2 :  Mountain Management

The project brief outlines the Slieve Aughty western upper catchment as being within the project scope – but what does this mean?  It means that engineering solutions (culverts, attenuation measures) could be identified within this region – We (South Galway Flood Relief Committee) think that we need much much more – we need to look at overall land management.  We need the main mountain stakeholders to be more responsible when it comes to the hydrology profile of the mountain.  In particular we think that there are two main stakeholders that need to take more responsibility and accountability

  1. Forestry : Irish Forestry Service and Coillte.
  2. Wine-farm developers/operators

Forestry

The Irish Forest Service is the key body that allows Forestry to happen – planting, roads, felling etc. .   They want forestry to have holistic benefits for many aspects of society. However when it comes to guidelines for forestry the state things like … “to be successful, forest drainage must remove surplus water rapidly … and drains should run in the direction of maximum slope and feed into collector drain “

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We’ve seen these drains before – some 1m deep heading downhill for a few hundred metres. Their goal is to lower the water table. That means changing how fast water flows off the mountain and also how much water is stored within the mountain.

Now when you do this to an area that can only sink water through a series of football-sized swallow holes then there is a problem.  South Galway is a special area – It relies on seepage through limestone to transport water to the sea.  The underground system cannot expand naturally, nor can it be expanded – it simply has overflows over land and it can take months for water to drain away.  This landscape is very rare and an incredible natural phenomenal and is well recognized through the environmental mechanisms of special area of conservation (SAC) . On our recent visit to the European Commission on the Environment we showed the following picture that had become part of the jewel-in-the-crown of SACs in Europe – Coole Park … backing up into a farm in Tierneevin

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The EU team actually winced at this.  The EU habitats directive protects these SACs.  Hydrology changes in the upper catchment will have a very negative impact on these SACs but this is where we are blatantly falling short on EU standards.   The very statement in the Irish Forest Service best-practice guideline is one such action which causes hydrology changes (also called hydromorphological)  but there are many more.  Forestry roads are another key concern – They are meant to be overlays on the mountain that with the right culverts maintain the hydrological integrity of the mountain whereas in fact they are often used as water navigators through the mountains.  The SGFRC has documented examples of water flow over 100 acres that previously went into one catchment (Shannon) being diverted by road construction into the western catchment (Boleyneendorish) .   As one of my neighbours put it succinctly on the night of the March 2017 public meeting  – “If you want to build a motorway, you have to put in attenuation ponds every kilometer or so– Why should forestry development be any different?”

The current outdated Irish Forest Service best-practice guidelines must be updated to change current practice. It firstly should comply with the EU water framework directive, the Floods directive and the EU Habitats directive.  It should not only limit hydrology changes to current flooding but in fact develop forestry as a natural resources that protects against flooding rather than facilitating it.

  • Do we always need mound drains? How deep should they be?
  • What type of attenuation/storage do we need per hectare of forestry?
  • What type of attenuation/storage do we need per 100m of road?
  • Should this be done on an individual level or can these be implemented on a sub-catchment basis.
  • How do we retrofit mitigation measures?

We need to look at felling schedules and ensure that felling is managed and kept at minimum levels for this area.

I’ve personally met with several people from Irish Forest service and I’m reassured by what seen.  These, like the rest of us, are hard working people that want to do the right thing.  A lot of the issue here has been awareness of the sensitivity of the Slieve Aughty mountains to hydrology changes and I’m confident that now we know the stakes, we will get a new set of guidelines that put solutions in place.   Our local representatives (Minister Canney, Deputy Cannon, Deputy Rabbitte) are organizing a meeting with Minister Foley (Forestry) and Minister Naughten (Environment)  and the Irish Forest Service/Coillte to help address this issue. We will update you on this when it happens.

Wind Farms

While forestry takes a certain amount of responsibility, the wind farms will be taking a lot more.  It is estimated that when the Derrybrien windfarm was constructed over 400 Hectares of forestry was cleared in one swoop.  The wind farm was constructed on 3.5 Square KM and the bog was ploughed with massive drains every 50m (Estimated 30km of drains) .  Now while Irish Forest Service may have not been aware of the sensitivities – The Derrybrien windfarm was literally taking-the-piss. The construction resulted in a massive bog-slide that contaminated the catchment area.  The whole construction was initiated without doing an Environment Impact Assessment and the Irish Government now finds itself as the end of a European Court  judgement with penalties on the way, and more than likely… more to come!

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 A snapshot of the wind farm at Derrybrien, one of the biggest in Europe, but developed without a proper environmental impact assessment
The Derrybrien landslide was one thing but the lasting hydrology profile of the Slieve Aughty Mountains was dramatically changed. Some of these drains today are now 2 meters wide and 2.5 metres deep.  This construction did nothing to consider our Special Areas of Conservation and thus are in direct contradiction to our EU directives.  We’d better be getting the chequebook out … unless…. those responsible can put mitigation measures in place.

Note : The European Court has demanded that an retrospective EIA be done that now reconsiders the environment impacts that have taken place after the fact and propose mitigation measures.  Isn’t that the least they could do when they generate €30 million/year!

We will need our public representatives to chase up the Windfarm operators, developers  (e.g. ESB)  and get mitigation measures put in now.

Concern #3 :  Timeline/Emergency Works

For a long-term solution – And talking to people one-on-one,  I think that the general feeling is that people are OK with the timeline – There is a realization that there is a lots of analysis to be done and a process to go through.  However, it’s 4-5 years away and people are very concerned with having another flood event within this timeframe which given past events – is very likely.   The tension people feel now every winter for several months is palpable and wearying.  We need to manage this situation. Galway County Council has put an emergency plan in place but this needs to be communicated. Also there are some solutions that could be put in place immediately as minor works (if we can bounce away Cost-Benefit-Analysis) . For instance,

  • we can we construct access for Rinrush/Castletown to ensure this community doesn’t get isolated again?  (10 families – 6 weeks with no road access) .
  • What about that new road monstrosity at John Willie Leech’s?  This has increased the threat of flooding to Caherglassaun, Tierneevin, Coole, Kiltartan, Corker,  Gort etc.
  • What about a bund wall constructed in Skehanna that will make the flooding worse there?

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The key action here is that we want Minster Canney and GCC to work out and communicate an emergency action plan to help manage this crisis in the coming years.

Summary

Overall there has been very good progress on the delivery of a flooding solution for South Galway.  We have more focus now than we have had in 27 years.

  • We have a full time, very competent project engineer in Galway County Council that embraces collaborativeness.
  • We have the Minister for Flood Relief in our constituency.
  • We have stakeholders such as NPWS, Irish Forest service that are being very co-operative.
  • We have great and active support and a great understanding from our public representatives to ensure that we put the right changes in place with the right people.

It is looking good.

We had concerns on Cost-Benefit Analysis but that may be mute as we place our trust in Minister Canney to make it a non-issue.  We need to protect the mountain – We need better land management there and we need Irish Forest service and wind farm developers to give us special treatment of a special area.   We need to address the flooding threat as this solution progresses and not just focus on the big solution in the future.

The South Galway Flood Relief Committee will continue to keep an eye on things but please continue to give your support  – This is what is really causing people to stand up and listen.

Thanks!

-David Murray

 

Flash Floods in South Galway?

In October 2016 I highlighted that in South Galway, from a flooding perspective, things have gotten worse and it looks like they have.  Yes – we got some heavy rain last night and yes –  we did get a flash-flood coming down off the Slieve Aughty mountains in the Owenshree river – but why?

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The water came thundering down the mountain and it can be seen in the footage below (or click here)

 

This footage was taken close to the soldiers bridge above Kilchreest and flooded Grannagh, and Ballylee area (Road closed)

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If you talk to locals in the area they have never seen water come down like this.  Floods in past times would take days to come, stay for days and take days to go.  Now it’s over in a flash.  If we take a look at the river levels today we see that the Owenshree river at Kilchreest (7-eye bridge) rose over a metre in a few hours.

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So what’s different now from then?

If we look at the Owenshree river catchment then we can see several  things that have changed in the Catchment area over the past 30 years.

  • Windmills
  • Forestry
  • Farmland Drainage

Forestry

In 2016, there was a lot of felling in Sonnagh Old, an area above Kilchreest. This is what it looked like in January 2016 after they dug the drains. There was a drain every 10m and they run all the way to the trees below.  These drains were 2-3 ft deep.

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The Irish Forestry Service :  Code of best practice

To be successful, forest drainage must remove surplus water rapidly and must be designed against the cause of saturation and waterlogging.

…drains should run in the direction of maximum slope

It’s there in black and white …. The Forestry Service (Under the Department of Agriculture)  wants to get the water off the mountain as quickly as possible .. because it’s good for the forest. It’s not however good for South Galway because from a drainage (Hydrology) point of view – it’s unique. It’s got disappearing rivers and Turloughs – It can only handle a certain flow of water.

Another area that changes the hydrology of the area is roads.  As roads cut through the mountains for forestry (and windfarms)  then there are many drains cut along them providing water a quick path to get off the mountain.

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A drain beside a road in Sonnagh Old (Windmills in background)

South Galway is not only unique from a geological point of view, it is  also  unique in that it is protected from an environmental point of view. Here is a quick snapshot:

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It’s got loads of SACs and that means that if you develop in the area you have to do an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) . These assessments have to consider SACs therefore when Coillte applied for a felling license in Sonnagh Old, from the Irish Forestry Service, they did an EIA. This EIA did cross the desks of NPWS.  So what happened?

Nobody was asking the question – “Can you prove that you have no negative impacts on the SACs?

Well that’s the question we (SGFRC – South Galway Flood Relief Committee)  are asking now.  Here is the impact of flooding on the SAC in Cahermore with slurry pouring into it (not withstanding the devestating impact of this flood on the farmer below)

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Courtesy of Sean Brady Aerial Photography

On 14th Feb the SGFRC sent in some questions to the Forestry Service :

Questions put to Irish Forestry Service

Forestry Code of Best Practice

  1. When did the code of best practice last get updated. When is it due for an update?
  2. How many inspections/audits have been carried on forestry operations to see if licensees adhere to code of best practice (year by year)
  3. Has this code ever been enforced?
  4. What is predominant form of drainage when preparing or replanting?
  5. What is the recommended depth of a drain (when mounding?)

Environment Impact Assessments

  1. Have any mandatory assessments been carried out regarding the impact of
    hydromorphological changes of the Slieve Aughty mountains due to forestry management (planting, felling, replanting) on the downstream hydrological dynamics of a karst area
  2. If so, have any assessments highlighted the impact of the 21 SACs that are in the Slieve
    Aughty catchment?
  3. Please provide us with the last 10 EIAs on Slieve Aughty
  4. Have the NPWS ever refused an application for felling forestry on Slieve Aughty?
  5. Have the NPWS ever queried an EIA on impact of hydromorphological changes on Slieve
    Aughty?

 

Many of the same questions should be directed to the wind-farm owners and developers and NPWS.

On a delegation to Europe in Mid February,  the European Commission on Environment indicated that the Irish Government was exposed legally with how it’s allowing catchment development with the appropriate assessments being carried out. (There is currently a Court ruling w.r.t Wind-farms in Derrybrien after the landslide happened – They never carried out the EIAs for the development)

What needs to happen?

This first thing that needs to happen is nothing.  Nothing more should happen on the Slieve Aughty Mountains – no more forestry, no more roads, no more wind-farms. It has to stop!

  • For the sake of our community in South Galway  it has to stop.
  • For the sake of the environment it has to stop.
  •  Legally (For the sake of the tax payer) – it has to stop!

We will rely on our public representatives to apply the pressure here to the right Government departments to ensure that this is stopped.

As we then focus on the solution – the management of this catchment area should be a principal part of the scope of Galway County Councils project brief on a Flood Relief Scheme for South Galway/Gort Lowlands and we will know in the coming weeks if this issue is being addressed.

We will rely on your support if it doesn’t and we will be having a public meeting end of March to update people on this.

-David Murray

PS : The solution isn’t rocket science and some were highlighted in another blog article. ‘Slow the flow’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Channel at Caherawooneen

caherawooneen.jpgThe area of Caherawooneen, Loughcurra and Dungory East play a pivotal role in the flooding dynamics of South Galway.  In the severe winter flooding of 2015, these communities provided the final overland connection of flooded South Galway Turloughs to the sea and were instrumental in helping to alleviate the distraught Cahermore community from even more hardship.  People talk about needing a channel to the sea for South Galway and currently Caherawooneen provides this connectivity.  It does this at a cost though as it can no longer take the amount of water and frequency of flooding and this has negative impacts for the local community.    A properly designed and sized channel that can safely transport water through this area would be of great benefit to South Galway communities, including a benefit to these communities as well.

Location

Caherawooneen is an located close to Kinvara on the north of the Cahermore road about 3km from Kinvara.  At its North-West side it is bounded by Loughcurra and connects via Dungory East to the sea north of Dunguaire castle.

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The map here shows the area in more detail.   There are two roads, Caherawooneen South and Caherawooneen North that link between Cahermore road and the Ardrahan road.

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Caherawooneen has no permanently flowing water but has two marshy areas known locally as the ‘Moneens’ and they are around 11m above sea level.  The road between them has some small culverts to allow water to pass through them which can happen in moderate winters.  There are some swallow holes close to the  South ‘Mooneen’ that may have significant flows.

Severe Winter Flooding

With heavy winter rains these marshes will expand but when the South Galway Turloughs of Coole, Garryland, Caherglassaun and Cahermore fill up and overflow, this will flow through Caherawooneen all the way to the sea.   In the winter floods of 2009, there was a flow overland from Caherawooneen to the sea. In winter 2015 however, with the highest rainfall on record and with the creation of an emergency channel (in an effort to alleviate the situation in Cahermore) there was much more substantial flooding in Caherawooneen. There were additional emergency works done to keep water flowing through some pinch points in Caherawooneen/Loughcurra

This was the extent of the flooding when the Cahermore channel was flowing.

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This flow lasted several weeks and is captured on some excellent done footage by Sean Brady Aerial photography.

Caherawooneen North-Loughcurra

Flow at Dungory East.

If we look at this in more detail we see the water overflowed from the Cahermore emergency channel to Caherawooneen South over the road, made its way across several fields and flowed across (flooded) the Caherawooneen North road.

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From Caherawooneen North, the water flow became troublesome as it gathered in a field in Loughcurra north that was surrounded by higher land and had literally no way out. The levels kept rising so emergency channels were cut through in several places and several walls had to be removed to keep the water flowing.  These ‘Emergency channels’ are highlighted in red and removed walls in orange on the diagram below.

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This shows the emergency channel (long red line) in Caherawooneen.

From then on, water flowed from Caherawooneen-North through Loughcurra.

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Flows from Caherawooneen North, through Loughcurra North (Insert are snapshots from drone images from Sean Brady Aerial Photography)
Once the water could flow through Loughcurra then it had a more or less a free run from the there to the Ardrahan road, to the Ballindereen road  to the sea beside Dunguaire Castle.

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These emergency works succeeded in keeping the water moving from Caherawooneen to the sea.

Flooding Impacts

One of the first things to highlight in Caherawooneen and Loughcurra is that in 1995, 2009, and 2016, no houses were flooded – this is mainly farmland.  From Cahermore, these lands are more or less (with some exceptions highlighted) downhill to the sea. There are however several other impacts to consider.

Firstly, both Caherawooneen roads flood and this restricts access to many families in the area . For instance, in order to get to Gort, and because the Cahermore road was closed, people had to go via Kinvara and Ardrahan adding an additional 14km for a round-trip to Gort.  The same was true for many farmers in the area as access to the land the far side of floods could require an additional  journey and in some cases would require an additional 20km round-trip journey to tend the farm.  The two Caherawooneen roads were cut off for over 100 days.

The second major impact was on farm land where over 150 acres of land flooded for over a 3 month period.   This has both short-term and long-term impacts. The short-term is the land is unusable for almost the entire year and yield is well down on the farm. The long term impact is that it takes time for fields to recover. The following is a photograph taken exactly 1 year after the floods and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to guess where the flood water level was as the yellowed grass on the right marks the flooded land.

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The emergency works carried also had many impacts.  Upstream in Cahermore an emergency channel had to be dug to save many houses there. This brought more water into Caherawooneen (an additional 3m3/sec)

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The emergency channel at Cahermore (Courtesy of Sean Brady Aerial Photography)
From talking to local farmers, another big impact here was not necessarily the floods, but the emergency works. When emergency works are done during flooding then the soil was removed while the water was flowing.  The underlying soil had no protection and was washed way destroying the land and brining a lot of lot of sediment downstream. 

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Emergency works carried out in Caherawooneen to alleviate flooding upstream (Courtesy of Sean Brady Aerial Photography)
When the flooding receded the farm land was damaged significantly and in some cases was not put back to it previous state. The following land in Loughcurra used to be a normal field but with the emergency works completed, this is how the land looks 1 year after the floods.

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This land in Loughcurra used to be normal field but was used for emergency works in Caherawooneen
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Even some emergency channels that were put back didn’t leave land in same condition
One key worry of the farmers is that even with land that was put back to its ‘original state’ but not done to a good standard and it would threaten single farm payment subsidies as there are strict guidelines to conform to.

The emergency works were absolutely necessary and did save houses and it’s a credit to all concerned who enabled this – from the land owners, to Galway County council, OPW, our elected representatives, neighbours and friends.  We have to make sure though that the people that gave up their lands don’t end up in the same situation again. They, like everybody else, need a proper solution for this flooding situation rather then be faced with future emergency works that will impact their farms

Solution

The good news is that everybody could benefit from a proper solution to get water from Cahermore (and hence South Galway) to the sea but this needs to be done properly.  There was a preliminary study done in 2011 by Jennings-O’ Donovan and they highlighted in the South Galway Flood report a permanent overground channel from Cahermore to the sea. This is a snapshot of that report.

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This also provided some indicative levels of a channel here:

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  • (D)is Caherawooneen South Road (11.12m above sea level)
  • (E) is Caherawooneen North Road (9.09m above sea level)
  • (F) is the Ardrahan road (4.61 m above sea level)
  • (G) is the Kinvara Ballindereen road (3.25m above sea level)

This channel proposal was over 3 meters deep, and 3m at base with sloping sides. It also indicated the length of the channel from the South Moneen (D) to Kinvara Bridge at around 3 km.

This was a very preliminary proposal and didn’t progress because of Cost-Benefit issues.  The new solution proposal may be similar to this but better hydrology modelling after the 2016 floods will give a better understanding of channel sizing etc.

What is interesting is if we plot the course of the flow of water in Winter 2015 and the route the emergency works have taken. The diagram shows this route as a blue dashed line and it’s quite close for many sections of it but there are some deviations where the emergency works were carried out.

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Sometimes I have to remind people that this is not a channel to drain Coole lake to the sea. This is a channel that acts as a storm drain that only flows whenever there are severe rains in South Galway and would remain dry otherwise.   Like any good storm drains, it should be properly sized, with proper culverts to contain and transport the necessary water safely to the sea. It’s now up to Galway County Council and their engineering consultants to get a proper overall solution designed and implemented.

Summary

Caherawooneen plays a vital role in South Galway flooding dynamics and it is the last route that water takes to the sea.  Flooding tends to happen in Caherawooneen when there is severe winter rains in South Galway. In winter 2015 the normal flooding however was exacerbated by the biggest rainfall that the South Galway has ever experienced and an emergency overflow channel from Cahermore as opened that caused more flooding in Caherawooneen.   Emergency works took place in Caherawooneen/ Loughcurra to keep the water flowing to the sea.  The main impacts were on access and farmland and in particular the state of the land post flood and post emergency works.

The water finds the easiest route and has clearly marked its path. We need a properly designed channel that will take the water from the lower South Galway basins during severe winter rains. The channel (or Storm drain) should benefit many communities of South Galway including the communities of Caherawooneen.

People have been repeating for years now – ‘It needs to start at the sea’ – This is place that South Galway flood relief needs to start and this should be one of the first parts of the project to complete.

David Murray

[PS : Special thanks to Joe Keane for bringing me around the area!]

The Cahermore Situation

The following article looks at the flooding situation in Cahermore which was badly affected by flooding in 1995, 2013,  2009 and again in winter 2015.

Cahermore is located close to Kinvara between Cahermore cross and Kinvara.  Cahermore Cross connects Kiltartan to Kinvara as well as Labane/Ardrahan and Garryland-Tierneevin.   It is therefore a very important area for access in South Galway which was compromised a great deal with roads blocked for 110 days in the 2015 winter floods.  The Cahermore area has close to 20 households in or directly around it but from an access point of view it would have a substantial impact when blocked.

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What is the hydrology of Cahermore?

Cahermore contains a dry Turlough which means that in the summertime there is rarely any standing water except for a few ponds that are used to water cattle.   As you can see from the diagram below, there is no water body in Cahermore in summer levels  sometimes even in normal winters.

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This site also has a connection with Caherglassaun and when Caherghassaun lake starts to rise Cahermore will also rise through many small springs.   In and 1846 map you can seen  McInerney’s old farm from and a small path to a well in the South.  (This used to have steps down into it)

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Severe Winter Rains

In the past 20 years, during severe winter rains, the situation in Cahermore becomes critical. The Turlough rises initially through springs but when Caherglassaun starts to overflow,  the levels of Cahermore starts to threaten roads, homes and farms.

The critical aspect of Cahermore is that it is one of the last of the South Galway basins to fill with no major connection to the sea and is effectively land-locked meaning water will continue to rise and cause chaos in the community

History of Flooding

From a historical perspective McInerney’s farm has never had a history of flooding, and only since 1995 has flooding become an issue here.

Martin McInerney clarifies the history of flooding. “This farm has been in our family for 10 generations and in those 10 generations, I’m the only one that has had to deal with flooding.   The floods came in 1990 into the sheds and we relocated them to higher ground but the flooding is getting worse and worse and last winter it flooded not only my farm and farm buildings but also my home. The water was never as high.   Imagine that the recent flood levels would have been up the thatch in my grandfathers house – having never been flood in any of that time.   I’ve heard stories of the the ‘night of the big wind‘ in winter 1911 but never a mention of a bad flood.   This situation has to be man-made  since 199 and something needs to be done about this.

When you look at older maps e.g. 1836 there is a section of Cahermore that has been marked ‘Liable for flooding‘. This is an area of about 20 acres and consistently floods in wet winters for 4 to 6 weeks (at the longest).  This is shown in the dotted lines.  This line constitutes a ‘regular’ flood and this is the actual Turlough boundary.

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During the Winter of 2015 the flooding extent was approximately the following:

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As you can see the Turlough levels were way above the 1846 levels and this caused the flooding of homes, farms and roads.    The levels reached in Cahermore were 13.51m above sea level .The following pictures summarize the Cahermore Story (Courtesy of Sean Brady Aerial Photography)

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Why is Cahermore flooding

The easy to say answer is ‘global warming’ but there a lot more at play here.  As we have seen in previous blogs water is getting off the Slieve Aughty’s quicker that before and flood remedial work done in Gort (and channeled to culvert at Kiltartan)  is filling the lower basins much faster and with greater volume of water (Coole, Caherglassaun and Cahermore) – This is  a real threat to the Cahermore community.

The Emergency Channel

In winter 2015, as the water continued to rise, the only potential outlet was around Adrian Glynn’s house was in Cahermore.  Water was already seeping under the ground at the back of Glynn’s making its way to Caherawooneen and the sea at Kinvara.  There was a mound of rock though beside the house that was holding back water.

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A lot of credit has to be given to Adrian Glynn to allow work to be done on this channel. He, and his family were very accommodating  with allowing a channel to be dug right at the back of this house, through his land. A gentleman!

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The Cahermore Channel  in full flow – Courtesy of Sean Brady Aerial Photography

Cahermore was rising several inches per day but this channel tapered it and eventually the levels stabilized within 5 days and around 2 weeks it started dropping.  There is no doubt in my mind that this channel had a significant impact on the saving of a complete community from flooding.

Impacts of Flooding

Cahermore was one of the communities affected the most seriously as the level of the Turlough impacted directly on the area.

  • There were 4 houses flooded and an additional 5 houses under water (but protected with sandbags and pumps etc) . A further  5 house were badly threatened.
  • Over 14 septic tanks flooded
  • Several farm buildings with slurry tanks were flooded and over 240 acres of farm land was flooded and over 17 farmers affected
  • Consequently the water in the area was contaminated
  • The road was closed for 106 days. This had a severe impact on parents with kids going to Northampton school and Seamount College and the community of Kinvara  as a whole and farmers having to make their way to get access to lands on the far side of the flood

Also Cahermore is a SAC (Special area of conservation) which, due to the flooding of roads, septic tanks and farmyards, would have had considerable pollution.  (you can see the slurry from the farmyard below flowing into the Turlough.

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Community response

One thing that I wanted to highlight is the Cahermore community response to the flooding.  The level help and support for people in crisis was incredible.   From Adrian Glynns selfless attitude to digging through this land to alleviate floods to the youth of the community – filling sandbags, manning pumps, helping neighbours – Cahermore – It’s a credit to ye!

Solutions

From the moment that we got the storms, Cahermore was always in trouble and the trouble starts several weeks after the rains. There is simply no way for the amount of water to get to the sea underground and it swells the Turloughs and spills overgound. The key solution is simple – Keep the maximum turlough level to a safe level (for all concerned) and get the water safely to the sea. The implementation of that solution may be more complex but still not rocket science.

What is a safe Level for Cahermore?

A safe level for Cahermore would be a level that doesn’t threaten homes, farms or access (and consequently the environment). In winter 2015, the maximum level of Cahermore was 13.51m and this is too high.  For instance, if we look at an OS map you can see a 10m contour (highlighted in red) . It doesn’t come near any house. (It still comes near a road but this may be a special case)

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From an environmental point of view, the NPWS, were of the opinion that if the Turlough was kept within this boundary, it wouldn’t have an adverse affect on the integrity of the Turlough, consequently, maintaining this at a maximum level would have positive benefit  on this SAC and other downstream areas.

Channel to the sea

The complex part of the solution is that in order to maintain this type of a level there needs to be a dedicated overflow channel to the sea, through Caherawooneen and there needs to be a proper sizing and overflow levels.  E.g.  the road at Caherawooneen is at 11.12 m.  So maintaining Cahermore at e.g. 10m would mean deeper and more costly channel.   There would need to be  balance between a deep (and expensive and disruptive channel) and cost efficient, but not very flow-efficient channel.   This balance is what we will need to keep an eye on as a solution progresses.

Today a temporary emergency channel is in place that can be opened to let some small flow out of Cahermore but this should not be seen as a long-term solution – it’s simply not big enough.

Summary

In severe winter flooding, Cahermore gets very badly affected as it takes overflow from Coole and Caherglassaun and there is no dedicated outlet.  The flooding has had a significant impact on homes, farms, access, health and the environment.   This situation is exacerbated by more recent upstream flood alleivation work and cannot be allowed to repeat.  The maximum Turlough level for Cahermore needs to be maintained at a level that eliminates these threats and the only way this will happen is to provide a dedicated ‘storm drain’ from Cahermore to the sea.  This is the first thing that needs to happen in overall South Galway Flood relief scheme

 

David Murray

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meeting between South Galway Flood Relief Committee and Galway County Council

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Almost to the day of the anniversary of the 2015 winter flooding, the South Galway community, represented by the South Galway Flood Relief Committee (SGFRC), met with Galway County Council at their December 2016 Loughrea Municipal District meeting in Loughrea last week.

Galway County Council Cathaoirleach Cllr Jimmy McClearn opened the meeting and highlighted that Minister Sean Canney had requested that the SGFRC be invited to make a deputation to Galway County Council elected representatives and Engineering officials.

David Murray, the Chairman of SGFRC introduced the committee (13 members) and their representative areas in South Galway.   Before the deputation Murray expressed, on behalf of the committee, condolences to Galway County Council members on the untimely loss of their colleague and friend, Liam Gavin and indicated that the committee had been looking forward to working with him on this project.

The committee highlighted that their objective is to progressively drive the rapid delivery of solutions to alleviate flooding crises in South Galway – Slieve Aughty to Sea. They then gave an overview of the flooding situation in South Galway and some of the key factors involved with this flooding, namely:

  • Poor management of the Slieve Aughty Mountains leading to rapid water run-off
  • Water flow congestion (Pinch Point) at Kiltartan
  • Lack of overflow channel (Storm drain) between Coole lake and the sea
  • Poor overland drainage for satellite areas of TarmonLabaneRooBallyboy.

The South Galway Flood Relief Committee outlined that the community of South Galway wanted two aspects addressed by the Galway County Council, the lead agency with responsibility for developing flooding solutions in South Galway. 

Firstly, a) they want emergency works that would lessen flooding impact if it happened again in the near future and secondly b) they want to ensure viable and fast-tracked long term solution.  The committee also went on to highlight their expectations of the development of a solution for South Galway and indicated that there needed to be a significant collaborative effort and a human-centric and pragmatic approach to the solution development. Collaboration was a highlighted topic and some examples were given of failed projects due to lack of collaboration (Tarmon) and how this wouldn’t have happened if people had sat around the table.

SGFRC gave an overview of some of the people and organizations that they have met in the previous months including Galway East TD and Minister of State for the Department of Office of Public Works and Flooding, Sean Canney, MEPs, TDs, Locally elected Councilors, IFA, OPW, NPWS (National Parks and Wildlife Services) and that there had been very productive talks with these people. As an example of progress, after several meetings between the NPWS and the SGFRC, there was very good progress on several different aspects relating to the environment, querying forestry practice and identifying recommended maximum Turlough water levels.

The SGFRC highlighted that it wants to be involved throughout the process, from Design Brief, Project Solution Design, Cost/Benefit Analysis and through every stage of implementation and believes that key stakeholders should be involved to ensure consensus agreement at each phase of the project and understand the status and progress of the project.

 “With today being the 1-year anniversary of the devastating floods of South Galway, this meeting was a long time coming and we have witnessed tensions rise in the South Galway community in recent months” said Murray. “We feel, however, that this is as a very positive first step, in conjunction with assurances from Minster of State Canney in October, we were further reassured by Galway County Council on their commitment to deal with flooding in South Galway, once and for all

Galway County Council Engineering Teamincluding Director of Services, Senior Engineers and Engineering Project Manager, were in attendance to receive SGFRC deputation. The committee also  received strong support from our local Councillors Joe Byrne and Michael Fahy and also unanimous support from Councillors Canning, Donnellan and Maher. Both Councillor Michael Fahy and Cathaoirleach Cllr Jimmy McClearn declared that SGFRC presentation was without doubt the most professional deputation ever presented to Galway County Council. The Council also acknowledge the positive input that the late Liam Gavin had on this project.

“This meeting between Galway County Council and the SGFRC was extremely positive and is a watershed for South Galway flood solution development”, said Councillor Joe Byrne. “In fairness, the presentation by the SGFRC was exceptional. The County Council is fully supportive of collaborating with the SGFRC and I think we all will get great value from this engagement.”

Galway County Council will meet with the SGRFC again in early January and have committed to keeping this item on the top of their agenda in their monthly meetings until solutions are implemented.

Murray is positive about the engagement going forward.  “We all want the same thing – we want to get rid of the flooding.  We have the first real commitment and positive momentum to resolving a flooding problem that has been devastating the extended South Galway community over the past 30 years.   We acknowledge Minster Canney’s drive and enablement of this project these past three months. It is certainly early days, we couldn’t have asked for a better first engagementwe will keep the momentum up and ensure we get the right solutions in place.

The South Galway Flood Relief Committee believe that the effort and expenditure over the coming years must deliver a future-proofed solution, avoid the mistakes of the past and deliver a full solution resolve the flooding challenges.

Flooding and Local Property Tax

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The subject of Local property tax was brought up a the Irish national flood form in October and there was some discussion on how flooding would potentially impact the amount of tax to pay.

Disclaimer : I’m not a tax  or valuation expert – so please don’t take this as professional advice – but merely as perspective. 🙂 

During the Irish National Flood Forum Conference,  Jer Buckley, advised homeowners to take flooding impacts into consideration during their assessments. “The property tax is a self assessment scheme.In other-words one makes there own declaration.You submit the value based on houses that are similar in your area.”

What is LPT and how does it work?

Local Property Tax (LPT)  is an  annual self-assessed tax charged on the market value of all residential properties in the State came into effect in 2013 and is being administered by Revenue.

On the LPT Website it states

While first valuation date for LPT was 1 May 2013 and any valuation of a property set on that date is valid until 31 October 2016.  The valuation is not affected by any repairs or improvements made to a property or by any general increase or decrease in property prices that might occur during the valuation period. 

I assume this means to give homeowners stability against spikes in the property market.  The website continues:

Section 35(5) of the Act does however provide for the submission of a revised LPT Return in advance of the next valuation date where specific information or documentation supporting such a change comes to hand, or where the purchaser feels that the original valuation (by the vendor) could not have been reasonably arrived at. Supporting documentation in this regard could include a copy of a professional valuation or documented information on property sales for comparable properties in the local area. The supporting documentation must be relevant to the valuation date (1 May 2013) rather than to current property values.

Here in South Galway, I think that after the flooding events of 2009 we all assured that the corresponding weather conditions were a 1 in 200 year event. Post 2013, we can seen now that this has not been the case (in 2014 and 2015/2016) so it therefore seems reasonable (and mandatory) that people affected by flooding should be able to reflect the reduced value of their property to a reduced LPT return. Of course if a house is flooded (requires pumps) etc, then it should be exempt from tax. (Minister urged to exempt flooded houses from property tax)

I asked some of our local estate agents and chartered surveyors in Galway about the impact of flooding on house values.

Perspective #1

By  Austin McInerney

The value of ones home is not just numerical but also intrinsic in the happiness that come with a family unit. Home is to be enjoyable, warm and safe.  So when your home becomes subject to the threat of flooding, then the happiness and safety is now itself in trouble.

As a Chartered Surveyor in south Galway and North Clare,  I am often tasked to value homes for a variety of purposes be it simple market value, for separation proposes, property tax, probate and more often in an improving market Mortgage purposes.

When valuing,  one of the main concepts a Surveyor must work with is the Open Market Value ethos … an open, free market with willing vendors and willing buyers.

This process must take in all positives of the home such as location, quality, size, presentation etc.. and it therefore follows we must take in the negatives which include the exact same criteria which often includes for example the fact that the property is close to Slatted sheds…a motorway or perhaps there is small rooms, poor quality windows etc etc but when you introduce the ‘F’ word into the mix the whole process of evaluating a home is thrown up in the air…Flooding.

If the house actually floods well then forget about it. Here we are discussing homes that are affected by flooding. This can take 2 forms in our opinion which is

  1. Directly : Meaning the water levels are coming close to that actual house
  2. Indirectly : Meaning, the house is not under threat but access is seriously curtailed during flooding periods

Directly

We have seen many forms of this with septic tanks rendered useless, flood levels in the lawn and in the worst cases pumping being used to keep the water at bay.  The working of the property has been affected.

The open market value of this property will go from a normal open market 100% down to as little as 25% with the only real value being a speculative investor gambling on a rental return and that the house will not actually flood.

There would be hope that promised remedial works etc will alleviate the flooding in time and threat the value of the house will annually improve, but it would only be such an investor that would risk funds on this basis.

So, a 5 bedroom 200 sq.m 10 year old house that should hold a €300,000 value  may actually only be worth €75,000. And this also not guaranteed if flood waters are that close.

Another factor that impacts the value is that it may be very difficult to get a mortgate and potential buyers would be limited in cash in hand only and even may just be speculators.   

Indirectly

We have witnessed on a few occasions property that are no where near being under threat of flooding but their access to, say, Galway or school or town being seriously curtailed with increased round trips etc required.  These homes would still loose some of there normal 100% value as banks providing finance may be reluctant or the buyers themselves holding reservations that they previously never had.

There is no exact numerical figure that can be offered but we do feel, taking comparisons into account that as much as 30% of the value will be lost depending on the seriousness of the access issues.

Buyers are themselves seeking an enjoyable, warm and safe home and if they feel that it is or will be tarnished in any way then they will happily look elsewhere; you then do not have an ‘open market’, if banks are not willing to provide finance due to flooding issues in the vicinity, your ‘open market’ is seriously curtailed further..

Austin McInerney MRICS, MSCSI is a Chartered Surveyor with detailed experience in dealing with flooding valuations for over 25 years. He can be contacted at 091-631078 or 086-8225085

Conclusion

[David Murray again….]

It is very clear that flooding, threat of flooding or removal of services due to flooding impacts the values of homes too varying degree.  If your home is devalued by flooding then it seems only right that this devaluation needs to be taken into account during your LPT assessment. If our Government services want full Property tax returns, then they need to ensure that we get a viable flood relief programme in place.   Maybe we should wait 100 years before we assess the viability of the solution.   

100s-1000s of reductions may not drain the Government coffers but this doesn’t just relate to people that have been affected by flooding.   

Consider that fact that Galway County Council, in January 2016, applied for €14m funding to deal with aftermath of flooding and within the same year  they are leving the people of all Galway with a 10%  increase in Property tax. It would seem these are related.  

It seems that the South Galway flooding is affecting everybody as it’s not Galway County Council, OPW or our Government that’s paying the cost of the flooding – it’s you.  

-David Murray
  (Thanks to Austin for input)