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.



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.

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)


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:


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.


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.

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


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 “


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


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!

 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?


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.


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.


-David Murray