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?


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)


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.


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


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.


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.

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:


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)

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


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’