Is South Galway really worth saving?

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Ballylee Underwater

The waters are still rising in South Galway as many communities once again are experiencing the threat of flooding.  Images of Thoor Ballylee under flood were getting plenty of comments and ire from the public – especially with the tag line ‘Are we worth it?’ . To see this priceless heritage site awash with flood scum has many people bubbling with anger.

  • Work should have been done on this long ago. A bit of a disgrace!
  • This is such a beautiful area and this is so sad to see it once again being flooded
  • “Such an iconic piece of history such a shame. This flood relief needs to happen sooner rather than later.”
  • It’s a disgrace!! 5 years ago this happened and here we are again!!! NOTHING has been done!!!!

Please put yourself in the shoes of the community of volunteers that have brought the castle back to its former glory, who have worked very hard, fund-raised for it, cleared and cleaned it during the last flooding, only to have to face into this again come spring time.  Flooding saps the spirit and that’s what it will do here, and anywhere flooding happens.

The frustration starts to bubble when we know that there are solutions to this.  Many people have mentioned controlling water upstream through better forestry practices or planting Native woodland as well as Turlough level management from mountain to sea.  

In 8 weeks time we should have a Feasibility Report and we are confident that there are real solutions available which should mark the end of serious flooding in South Galway.  But before we run off and celebrate, Galway County Council and the OPW need to have one question answered.

“Is South Galway Worth Saving?

Yes – That’s essentially what it comes down to! Will the benefits to the community outweigh the spend/cost? From looking at the toll that that this places on rural community, you would think so – unfortunately – it depends on how you measure the ‘benefit’.

What we do know is that the method that the OPW use to measure benefit is mainly used for urban projects and it hasn’t been quite adopted for South Galway.  So, with this method, a house that floods overnight (and gone the next day) would be treated the same as a house that floods for 6 weeks. A road closed for 1 week offers a specific benefit but this doesn’t scale to community of 13 houses that is isolated for 56 days (Rinrush), or the effect of 22 roads paralyzing an entire community.   Farms, farmers  and farm buildings – they don’t seem to be covered by this urban-based model.   Also not covered are the intangible affects on communities (and some of these are the most devastating)

  • Damage to physical and/or mental health, death or injury
  • Isolation and loss of community
  • Worry about flooding
  • Worry about loss of livelihood (farming in particular)
  • Damage to the environment (Coole and all the SACs)
  • Damage to cultural artifacts (Ballylee, Coole)
  • Loss of memorabilia and irreplaceable items and pets
  • Loss of confidence in authorities and services

The South Galway Flood Relief Project has brought a lot of analysis to bear. We know potential flooding levels, duration’s and the project consultants (Ryan Hanley)  have endeavored to include as many benefits and apply it to this flooding situation – including the duration of flooding -to help get the benefit we need.

I get the impression that the Design Consultants and project team are leaving no stone unturned when it comes to interpreting the benefit of a flood relief solution to the community of South Galway.   The decision what’s in and what’s out of the methodology,  the ‘pruning’ on the benefits however, will be done in a dry OPW office in Dublin.

It is this very decision however that will stop or progress this project, to use the tried and tested but somewhat irrelevant methods or to adapt to the situation and use realistic measurements and to add significant weight (and benefit) to the intangibles.

Even if Cost-Benefit doesn’t measure up – who cares? Just write off the balance and get the job done. So yes, there may be a gap e.g. we could be €5-$6 million short? Would that stop the project. Absolutely – yes … if ‘Government’ doesn’t step in and sign off on it.

One thing that has been echoing all around South Galway is that the Government has already signed off of €5 Million  … on fines paid to the EU Court of Justice, for the Derrybrien Windfarm debacle. It also has an an additional daily fine of €15,000).

Its just so ironic – our committees are subject to meticulous (but misfocused) measurements to proof our worth while, at the same time, so much money is being thrown away on fines for the ESB Derrybrien Windfarm.  This windfarm could be contributing to the floods but its impossible to know because they didn’t to a proper Environmental Impact Analysis – which is why they got fined in the first place!

All eyes will now focus be on the Galway County Council/OPW report and it will be the responsibility of our public representatives (Ciaran Cannon, Sean Canney and Anne Rabbitte) to ensure our government (whenever it forms) bridges any gap.   Maybe we should go all he way to the top and just ask President Higgins to deliver on his previous promises by presidential decree.

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It’s time to finally decide the right course for South Galway. It’s time to stop revisiting this every 5 years and doing yet another expensive report.  We have a real opportunity to progress a flood relief solution that will stop this recurring nightmare. Our communities are well worth saving – irrespective of any cost-benefit analysis.

-David Murray

South Galway on the verge of Spring Flooding

In October last year, high winter water levels and flood relief delays was leaving South Galway exposed to flood risk.   While August and September 2019 were close to double the expected rainfall, October and November had less rainfall than normal and it looked positive that the South Galway would escape yet another winter without flooding.   Some people had expressed this to me that we were coming out the far side of this and it was unlikely that we would get flooding now. Some people were more cautious reflecting back to 2014 when we had a significant spike in February 2014.

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Blackrock Turlough, Peterswell had almost disappeared 2 weeks ago

Less than 2 weeks ago,The Blackrock Turlough, Peterwell,  was close to disappearing and this morning it’s less than 1m from the road between Peterswell and Skehanna. There is more to come off the mountain and there is more rain on the way.

 

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While recent rain it not the dramatic rain downpours of 2009 and 2015, or the large flooding volumes either, its a slower creeping buildup of water levels.  This latest rainfall will likely flood roads around Tierneevin (just flooded across road as I’m typing..) and Tarmon and potentially by the weekend some roads around Blackrock, Peterswell, Ballylee, and we still have unpredictable weather over the next few weeks.

We have in some ways been lucky in the past 2 weeks.  While Storm Ciara packed a quick punch of rainfall, Storm Dennis hopped off us and landed with a vengeance in England where it offloaded a months rain in 48 hours.

However, even today Thursday 20th of Feb, the outlook is for Heavy rain tomorrow and Monday.

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The following graph shows the water levels at Russaun, the outlet of Lough Cutra. This essentially is the level of water that flows through Gort town (and eventually into Kiltartan)

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Up until 9th February, the levels had stabilized and then Storm Ciara hit which surged levels. Storm Dennis and yesterdays rainfall have kept the levels up.  This level of water won’t cause any sudden flash flooding but will continue to fill up Coole, Caherglassaun and Cahermore and make South Galway more susceptible to severe flooding if we get a further ‘winter’ storm.

The key concern here is that if we got another severe storm, then we could see a similar surge as we did with Storm Ciara on top of current levels  – which would likely bring several flooding to the area.

On the backdrop of this, Galway County Council is due to submit Feasibility report in the coming weeks (Last date given was Q1-2020)  – which will then decide on the future and viability the South Galway Flood Relief Proposal.  South Galway, now, more than ever needs solutions not more failed report or expensive studies.

We are at the ‘right’ side of the flooding season and hopefully we will make it through unscathed.  We are coming very close to the time to call out our elected representatives on their commitments to finally eliminate flooding in South Galway.

We should be keeping in mind a storm of a different kind if this much needed project fails to make it through.

David Murray

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2020 – Elections and Flooding Solutions

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Flooding in Kiltartan, Corker and Newtown – Nov 2009

When we had our local elections earlier this year – each of the candidate reported that the issue of South Galway flooding was one of the top of the issues reported from many in the community.  In the past 6-8 months we had a focus meeting with Minister Moran, Minister Canney and Minister Canon, and Deputy Anne Rabbitte.  Minister Moran’s promise was to ‘Leave no stone unturned’  when it came to finding solutions for South Galway.  Because of delays in the Feasibility report, we held a public meeting in November to highlight our key concerns. Each of the elected representatives gave their update and outlined their past work and current commitments to the issue of flooding.   Flooding was a bigger issue in the last General election because South Galway were just after a major flood in Winter 2015.  So how have our elected representatives measured up since then?  Have they been working on this issue? Have they been keeping it relevant and are they committed to this issue going forward?

Have our current public representatives been proactive in finding Flooding Relief solutions.

In general, the answer to this is ‘yes’.  Canney, Cannon and Rabbitte in the aftermath of flooding were very focused on pushing flooding forward.   Firstly, Cannon, and the new Government made a commitment to South Galway to tackle and deal with the flooding.  The then Taoiseach,  Enda Kenny,  reformed the cabinet with a stronger focus on Flooding by creating  an Minister of State for “the Office of Public Works & Flood Relief” and in charge of this he put Sean Canney (Who agreed a handover to Boxer Moran after 2 years) .   Minister Canney met with SGFRC and started to firm up his approach to the project.  He seconded experts in Turloughs and Hydrology (McCormick and Naughton)  from TCD into GSI to start gathering the data required for the analysis and modelling of the project. He installed a dedicated Project Manager to define the Project brief and run the project.  Canney’s early work and drive  was essential to get the South Galway Flood Relief scheme/project up and running.  It was a very tense time, when people just wanted ‘diggers in the ground’ but because of the complexity of the area, it would be years before feasible solutions would emerge.

Cannon was also active and responsive in this time,  and worked closely with his County Council colleague Joe Byrne to keep flooding high on the agenda, nationally and locally and Rabbitte was responsive in getting clarification through Parliamentary questions on some of the burning issues.    The SGFRC wanted to get more insight into some of the potential flooding sources and met with Minister Naughten (facilitated by Minister Canney) and Minister Doyle (Forestry) , facilitated by Minister Cannon.  So overall good work getting the project up and running (which took about 1 year)

Complexities and Delays

As project progressed and complexities forced delays we did have several meetings (as indicated above) to highlight situation and to keep momentum on the project.

In general, because the project delays were due to engineering complexities there was very little political influence that could resolve the delays – however the end result needs stronger commitments.

Flooding solution Going Forward

You see, in 3 months time we will know the measure of flooding commitments because that’s when feasibility study is to be delivered.   Minister Moran says he will leave no stone ‘unturned’  and the primary metric that will determine the success of this flooding – the ‘Benefit’,  will be a measure of Minister Moran’s commitment.

The OPW normally uses a particular approach for measuring flood relief scheme ‘benefit’ (i.e. how much it will save) but this approach is based on the ‘Multi-Coloured Manual’ which is primarily focused on urban flooding.  South Galway flooding is extremely unique (flooding for several months as opposed to hours/days)  and this has been echoed by our representatives who have promised to take this uniqueness into consideration.

We need a different way of measuring benefit than the ‘urban-1 day flood’ way.  In fact this is what Ryan Hanley consultants have been doing to get maximum benefit  – look at the real picture and real impacts.   But will they be allowed to use the real benefit or will they be locked into producing a ‘me-too’ analysis suited to urban flooding.

The decision to adapt this more relevant approach belongs to OPW (currently to Minister Moran)  and one thing that we absolutely have to avoid is for OPW to turn around and say – ‘same again lads’ and throw out the actual benefit that we need.

The wheel has been turning for about 2-3 years now thanks to that initial effort by our elected representatives and the next 2 months are vital to ensuring it continues.  We need them to leave no stone un-turned to get our best flood relief solution for this area.

If any election candidates turn up at your doorstep looking for your vote  – see how much they know about the flooding in South Galway and whats being done. See if they intend to leave no stone un-turned in assessing the real impacts and getting the best for South Galway and getting rid of flooding once and for all.

We haven’t heard anything anything yet from new candidates.  If any candidates want to send anything relevant on their position,  then please do so by Tuesday 4th Feb and I’ll will put up on this blog.

Thanks ,

-David Murray