There was recently a meeting between South Galway Flood Relief Committee (SGFRC) and Minister Naughten regarding the Derrybrien Windfarm and its effects on the South Galway flooding impacts. Deputy Sean Canney hosted the meeting and introduced the SGFRC members present (David Murray, Eugene Nolan and Michael Cahill)
Deputy Canney highlighted that the SGFRC was a progressive and knowledgeable team and had worked across the board to meet with the different stakeholders of South Galway, including OPW, Galway County Council, NPWS, Coillte and Irish Forest Service. He also brought Minister Naughten up to speed as to where we are in the South Galway flood relief scheme – A brief has been produced and is currently going to tender and engineering consultants should be on board by end of November.
Profile of South Galway
David Murray profiled the South Galway Situation and described the Underground river systems of South Galway and flooding risk/sensitivity due to rapid runoff the Slieve Aughty mountains. In the winter of 2015 South Galway suffered over 35 homes flooded with 34 badly threatened. Over 200 farms were flooded and total road closure over this timeframe was 1733 days. This caused severe levels of anxiety and distress for many in the South Galway area. Murray also highlighted environmental concerns including; extreme silting of South Galway river courses that pose a threat to the underground river systems; the destruction within Coole Park nature reserved of protected habitat and the high levels of pollution in several SACs and Galway bay. Murray also highlighted that the flooding had a huge impacts on area of national heritage, including Coole Park and Thoor Ballylee.
Concerns regarding windfarms
Murray highlighted that that the overall South Galway public perception of Derrybrien Windfarm is very poor. The community has seen a big change in river flow dynamics (hydrology changes) in the past 20 years and suspects Windfarm involvement in increasing flooding risk for South Galway. He noted that the Derrybrien landslide did a lot of environmental damage and according to the EU Court ruling had improper planning (environmental impact assessments) consideration of and is now subject of EU Court order. A key point to make was that in order to mitigate the landslide, the Windfarm developers put a ‘Robust Drainage Scheme’ in place, with over 30km of drainage channels created which from a proposal by Michael Rodgers, included ‘drainage for each access road, all turbine bases and each repository site . . . continuously for the life of the windfarm project and thereafter’. This contradicted the original Environmental Impact Assessment which stated that the ‘construction of turbine bases does not result in long-term drainage of the surrounding peat‘
Some more details can be found /Windfarm Impacts on Flooding in South Galway
SGFRC meeting with European Commission Environment (Feb 8th 2017)
Earlier in the year the SGFRC met with the European Commission on the Environment and brought them through the South Galway flooding situation and the sensitivity to the area to hydrology changes. The EC Environment Enforcement highlighted the EU Court Order against Derrybrien windfarm and their requirements/expectations of retrospective environmental impact assessments and retrospective mitigations to be put in place by the developers in order to avoid penalties.
The EU Commission stated that the next phase of resolving the noncompliance
regarding the Derrybrien Windfarm may lead to financial penalties if in the context of a second court ruling Ireland was judged to be non-compliant.
The EC Environment Enforcement representatives recommended to meet with windfarm stakeholders and to highlight flooding concerns which would ensure they are included in retrospective EIA. The stakeholders (ESB) were informed on April 7th – ‘Windfarm impacts on South Galway Flooding’, and Minister Naughten was subsequently forwarded this report.
Current Engagement with ESB (Windfarm Owners)
Since then the SGFRC has met with ESB and has had positive engagement with the Derrybrien Windfarm operations manager to discuss the situation. The SGFRC highlighted profile of South Galway and flooding concerns and environmental concerns. The asks on behalf of the South Galway community are similar to (but independent of) the EU Court order – Analyse impact of the legacy drainage scheme and propose solution proposal for mitigation. The ESB is due to get back to this the coming weeks.
Key Asks for South Galway Community
The SGFRC highlighted some key asks from Minister Naughten and the ESB
- Acknowledgement that Windfarms/ESB are a stakeholder on upper catchment
- Mountain hydrology changes and flooding pressure are incorporated into retrospective. – EIA and mitigation
- Opportunity for engagement with engineering consultants – Sharing of data, expertise
- Example Climate change metrics – 1:100 year storms are now 1:5 – how can this gap be narrowed?
Minister Naughten has indicated that since meeting in Gort last year, he has progressed windfarm development guidelines with better flood sensitivity. SGFRC highlighted current best-practice example of Sliabh Bán Wind Farm, Roscommon, Ireland where there was Independent Hydrology Analysis, Flood risk identification and Planned Mitigation. Minister Naughten said there was more work to do here as it did suffer a deluge in the past and there is room for improvement in best-practice.
The SGFRC indicated that while the Robust Drainage scheme happened in the past, it did so without an EIA (It contradicted the original EIA) and that this wasn’t just a once-off impact event as South Galway communities are potentially being impacted every winter.
There was a discussion on the opportunity that is presenting itself as we have at the start of a flood design scheme for South Galway. The engineering consultants will be analysing upper catchment and proposing solutions to mitigate flood risk so this is where ESB as a stakeholder could have some key involvement either as part of the EU retrospective mitigation or independently to this. There is an opportunity to have a positive public/community impact where ESB is showing a proactive interest in the community.
Michael Cahill, a farmer in South Galway highlighted that in previous Cahill generations his farm did not flood but in the past 20 years, his farm has flooded 5 times bringing a huge stress to his livelihood.
Minister Naughten will raise these concerns directly with ESB and SGFRC will await communications from ESB when their situation analysis in complete and the SGFRC will review ESB/Windfarm situation end Nov and decide on course of action. Overall a progressive meeting and we look forward to the next step.
Chair South Galway Flood Relief Committee
PS: An additional topic of Climate change was discussed and SGFRC highlighted that we needed a better estimate of heavy storms. There is a lot of scepticism on the fact that we can have a 1-in-100 year storms every 3-4 years. We need to come up with better metrics immediately or the flood relief solutions that we are designing will not be designed with real future scenarios in mind. Eugene Nolan has shared the ICARUS project (NUI Maynooth – Conor Murphy) in the hope that we can collaborate with these to get a better understanding of Irish Climate change. Both Minister Naughten and Deputy Canney expressed interest in this and will follow up.