A mood of cautious optimism was present at the meeting on Thursday night. A rigorous scientific approach to the project, a different approach to cost-benefit, strong drive by the SGFRC and strong support by our local representatives all pointing in the right direction. David Murray, Chair of SGFRC cautioned however that we have been here many times before and right now we need focus and comprehensive support to get this over the line.
A public meeting was held on Thu 28th November to give an update on the South Galway Flood Relief project. The project had been running for 2 years and has had significant delays but is finally close to producing it’s first deliverable – a feasibility report that outlines flood relief solutions options and costings.
The meeting was attended by over 100 people and before the update began a slide-show ran through newspaper archives with titles like “They Fear the Winter Floods (1948)”, “Farmers in South Galway to ‘Grin and Bear’ the floods”(1992), “Record Rains bring Extensive Flooding (1993). As well as headlines of the many promises and highlights
“This is the most important step in the process of solving the problem of flooding in South Galway”, said Mr Michael D. Higgins, T.D., Minister for Arts, Culture and Gaeltacht, yesterday.
“It is the most comprehensive study and remedies to be put in place will be long-term”. Minister Higgins went on to say that the Government is giving the South Galway Situation top priority.
Connacht Tribune Friday, March 17, 1995
This sobering and sometimes depressing look at the legacy of flooding in South Galway set a tone of pessimism even before the meeting started and was underscored by David Murray, chair of the South Galway Flood Relief Committee. He showed Gort and South Galway 10 years to the day of the 2009 flooding disaster that hit.
The first focus on the meeting was a project update and Murray set about bring facts about to burst the myth that nothing has been done – he indicated that plenty has a lot has been done but it’s all mainly scientific analysis of Turlough and rainfall and solutions to break the mystery of how South Galway floods and how these floods can be alleviated predictably. It is anticipated that follow-on solutions will be simple but assured.
The build-up to this project started in summer 2016 where Minister Sean Canney requested that Galway County Council become the lead agency in progressing a flood-relief solution and the OPW approved funding to develop a project brief and assign a full-time project manager for this scheme. The project manger was not appointed until January and it took almost 8 months to publish the brief which was done in August 2017. The project was put to tender and Ryan Hanley were the Design Consultants while Mott MacDonald were the selected as the Environmental Consultants.
To supplement this team hydrology experts were seconded from Trinity into GSI to develop and build the scientific foundations of this project making it by far the most complex flood relief project to be every undertaken in Ireland. This presented many challenges due the unique Geology of the area with unique circumstances and there needed to be some new approach and groundbreaking methods developed – all of which is making the initial phase of this project unpredictable
The Cost-Benefit measurements that are used for most flood relief projects are typically applied to urban areas where flooding comes and goes within a short duration and road is closed for a few hours, days or weeks. It doesn’t make sense to try and apply this to an area of hundreds of Sq km where whole communities can be isolated for months.
And the original timelines was for Stage #1/ Feasibility Study to be finished in December 2018. This has now moved to April 2019. Which is a slippage of over 15 months. This is the main focus for now because if the project doesn’t pass Feasibility Stage then there’s not point in talking about diggers on the ground.
The feasibility study is all about analysing current and future flooding scenarios – levels & impacts and investigating solutions and their potential savings (benefits) and cost as well as environmental aspects. These will then be presented to Minister for OPW/Flood Relief who can then bring to public consultation. The report typically contains;
- Flood Relief Measures Options Assessment
- Flood maps, channels, flows
- Detailed plans of proposed works
- Identify Preferred Options
- Preliminary Cost v’s Benefit
- Environmental Impact Assessments and proposed mitigations
But how do we do this for South Galway with its hidden underground rivers and connectivity? This connectivity needs to be analysed using a lot of data analysis and finally build into a hydrology models.
- Build a hydrology Model of the Catchment!
- Survey the Catchment (Homes, Farms, Business, Roads)
- Build a rainfall Model for 1000 years
- Run the model and see the effects on flooding over next 1000 years
- Craft and check solutions (channels, attenuation) to see impact
- Manage and Tweak out for Environmental Constraints
- Produce several options and their Costings and Savings (Benefit)
This involved looking at different flood relief options including
- Attenuation of Flood Flows in the Slieve Aughty Hills
- Karst Drainage Maintenance Works
- Diversion of Flood Flows from High Flood Risk Areas
- Alleviate Flood Levels with Flood Relief Channels and Culverts
- Individual Property Protection
- Raising Roads
Modelling and Tweaking
The main unpredictable activities so far have been
- The development of the hydrology model and get the right set of data to ensure an accurate model and the calibration of this model to give an accurate result
- The development of a rainfall model with climate change incorporated, which included simulations of 1000s of years rainfall which took over a month to complete.
- The analysis of upland attenuation and salinity analysis of Kinvara Bay based on public consultation.
- The integration and constant tweaking of some the above solutions e.g. profiling land and updating resizing of culverts. Over 1000 of these designs were simulated each one taking between 30 minutes and 4 hours to run.
So we have very accurate models now and several solution have been explored, including looking at alternate channels through several places from mountain to the sea. This has now spawned off more detailed analysis and works around certain areas including:
- Kinvara Bay to Upland areas.
- Cahermore Flood Alleviation Works.
- Caherglassaun & Coole Flood Relief Works
- Tierneevin and South West Area Flood Relief Works
- Kiltartan Flood Relief Works
- Labane & Environs Flood Relief Works
- Ballyloughaun and Castletown Flood Relief Works
- Gort Town (Lower) Flood Relief Works
- Rinrush & Ballylee Flood Relief Works
- Skehanagh & Blackrock Flood Relief Works
- Termon (south) and Cregaclare (north) Flood Relief Works
It may have been obvious at the start, but the South Galway Flood relief scheme is 10-12 interdependent localised schemes – and without a full hydrology model it would have been impossible to promote any individual scheme as it’s impact on the other schemes would have been unpredictable. The approach by Galway County council, Design Consultants, Trinity and GSI is to use science to accurately predict the impact solutions have.
One other aspect to mention here is that it with this type of modelling it is also possible to understand the impacts of flood relief solution on duration of flooding and Ryan Hanley are looking to utilise this data to increasing the benefit of flood relief solutions – something that would have been impossible to predict without the model.
In summary this approach:
- Provides a much more realistic assessment of potential solutions – well into the future
- Allows a full assessment from mountain to sea of solutions and their impacts
- Allows assessments of environmental concerns
- Provides real data that can help to add more budget for the project.
Overall these are very positive aspects but the complexities of this analysis it what has been contributing to the project delays.
For this stage of the project the feasibility
- All modelling is to be completed before end of November 2019
- Commence works on Feasibility Study in conjunction with the Environmental Consultant
- Submit Feasibility Report Q1 2020
- Complete all Stage 1 works in Q2 2020 (Environmental Impact Assessment Report, Hydrology & Hydraulic Reports, Draft Flood Risk Management Plan, Valuation Survey to determine all land owners to be affected by works)
- The project will proceed to Public Exhibition in Q3 2020
The key risks to the project are :
- Infeasible Cost-Benefit Analysis
- Environmental Issues
Infeasible Cost-Benefit Analysis
If environmental constraints cannot be mitigated then there is not way for the project to proceed unless it goes through an IROPI process.
Response from Elected Representatives
Minister Sean Canney
Minister Canney outlined how in his role as Minister for OPW and Flooding kickstarted this project and assigned a full-time engineer to this. He also got GSI and Trinity involved at an early stage to ensure this project got the specific scientific backing it needed. Even though he has switched Ministries, he has been consistently pushing a flood relief solution for this flood relief agenda.
Minster Canney was recently involved in progressing the Rinrush scheme and he noted that the recent announcement of investment can be taken as the first indication of works emerging from this project. He indicated that Galway County Council has probably the best record in the country of applying for minor works applications for flood relief but with this project it was difficult to work on something which could take away the overall benefit for the flood scheme. He suggested that the Rinrush investment was giving a statement of intent from the government and Boxer Moran and that it is likely this will be funded from the overall flood relief project.
Minister Canney reaffirmed his commitment to see this project through to the last.
Minister Ciaran Canon
Minister Canon was not available due to ministerial duties but sent on a statement to be read on the night. He indicated that he invited Minister Kevin Boxer Moran to visit South Galway on the 12th of July last and he had the opportunity to meet with the South Galway Flood Relief Committee and local public representatives. He highlighted that the meeting was very successful in making Minister Moran aware of our determination to bring this scheme to a successful conclusion as quickly as possible. He indicated that Minister Moran remains unwavering in his commitment to address flooding situation in South Galway.
Minister Cannon also indicated that he worked with Minister Moran to secure funds for the Rinrush access project and to demonstrate the seriousness of our intent. Minister Moran subsequently committed €75,000 in funding for that emergency access road into Rinrush and that the project will get underway immediately.
Regarding the Derrybrien Windfarm debacle, Minister Canon has indicted that he is engaging directly with the ESB, with Minister Bruton and with Minister Murphy to ensure that when this environmental analysis commences, the community of South Galway will be consulted with extensively.
At this point in the project, all of us, the South Galway Flood Relief Committee, the OPW, Galway Co. Council, our local public representatives, our local communities and our government, we need to continue working in a spirit of genuine partnership to see this project through to fruition. Bear in mind that not one of these partners wants to even contemplate failure this time around. We are all driven by an ambition to succeed. None of us wants to bear witness ever again to the devastation visited upon so many vulnerable people. I am convinced that if we approach this challenge in that spirit of partnership we will succeed. From my own perspective, I will not rest until we do. This has been, and remains, my number one political priority as a representative of this region.
Minister Moran gave a statement which was read out as part of Minster Canon’s statement.
As you are all aware, the combination of river water, groundwater, swallow holes and turloughs in the Gort Lowlands catchment makes this area unique on an international level. Due to the intricate nature of the area, Trinity College Dublin and Geological Surveys Ireland have been contributing to the development of the Scheme.
The fact that this project is the first in the country to deal with so many variables over a 270 sq km area, has led to considerable slippage in the original timeframe. Though unfortunate, these could not be avoided due to the intricate and complex modelling which is required before the Feasibility Study can be undertaken. South Galway Flood Relief Committee were advised of this on 25th September by the project engineer.
It is vital that when we seek to move to the next stage of the project, we can stand over the quality of the research that has been done. This research, which has cost close to half a million euro to date, is the foundation upon which we will build the whole flood relief project. This is why the project team members are being as thorough as possible in their examination of all aspects at this stage of the project, as any oversights or omissions at this time could prove detrimental at a later phase of the project. Yes we have lost out on some time, but when it comes to the two critical aspects of this project, cost benefit analysis and environmental analysis I am convinced that this will have been time well spent in getting our preparations right.
Minister Moran also informed Minster Canon that the project will now proceed to Public Exhibition in Q3 of 2020, with a view to construction getting underway in late 2021, a deadline which he stressed cannot be missed and which Minister Moran completely agreed with.
An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar
Minister Canon also met with An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during the week to discuss this priority and was very aware of how much it means to me and of the need to ensure that we have no further delays. He sent the following statement to Minister Canon.
“Can you please relay these words to the meeting in Gort. I know that my predecessor Taoiseach Enda Kenny visited South Galway in January of 2016, and seeing at first hand the devastation visited upon communities there, he committed to providing a lasting solution. I am equally determined to ensure that the OPW is properly resourced to provide that flood relief solution for South Galway. That is why our government will spend €1 billion on flood relief over the next decade under Project Ireland 2040, our national development plan. We are intent on delivering flood relief solutions that work for all of our communities who have been so badly impacted in the past.”
Deputy Anne Rabbitte
Deputy Rabbitte was not available on the night as she had previous commitments for that night. She had indicated well before the meeting that she was disappointed that she could not make it as she has been involved deeply in this issue. She had a brief statement read on the night.
She stated that it’s a sad reflection of the government’s lack of action that the issue of flooding has been rumbling on for so long.
She was a bit more skeptical of the ability of the project to deliver to a rural community. When questioned at the July 12th Meeting with the SGFRC if OPW had ever delivered a rural project like this Minister Boxer Moran indicated that they hadn’t because of Cost-Benefit issues.
Regarding the wind farms, Deputy Rabbitte questioned the Government response (or lack thereof) on this and when she asked parliamentary questions to clarify the situation pre-penalty she got neither. She stated that the government undoubtedly have questions to answer on this issue.
Deputy Rabbitte has been involved with South Galway flooding situation and has asked many parliamentary questions to draw more focus to South Galway flooding. One of her commitments to the communities of South Galway was to be able to bring the communities voice right to the government front door and asked people to do so and liase with Cllr Finnerty or Cllr Kinane.
She praised the efforts of the South Galway Flood relief committed but asked to ensure planning of public meetings includes candidate’s availability.
Councillor Joe Byrne, PJ Murphy and Gerry Finnerty gave their strong support for the project. Cllr. Byrne said that this is an item on the monthly Galway County Council Municipal Meeting agenda. He also stated that for Rinrush, the funds have been released for the very start of this but we need to push this through and get the complete development.
Cllr Finnerty indicated that Galway County Council have already spent a lot of money on this so far and that level of investment should also give further momentum to the project.
Cllr Murphy indicated that Galway County Council have had a very complex development on their hands and that they are doing all they can to progress their project.
David Murray, SGFRC concluded as follows:
- There has been a lot of work done to date on the project – though it may be hard to see this
- Focus is Feasibility over the next 3-4 months – Murray warned that we have been here many times before but haven’t been successful and warned that if this project fails feasibility and it gets consigned to another report – there will be outrage.
- He urged the community to keep this on the agenda and demand solutions here
He showed a reminder of what happened ‘one’ of the times we got another failed report.