Many of the areas that are current flooding in South Galway have only been flooding in the past 30 years. Many farmers have indicated that they are the first of many generation who own the family farm that have had to deal with flooding. This flooding has been increasing in frequency with 5-6 floods in these 30 years. They are also increasing in severity with the worst flood experienced in winter 2009 being superseded in winter 2015.
What’s special about South Galway?
South Galway is extremely unique – It has 3 main rivers flowing westward from the Slieve-Aughty Mountains. These rivers disappear underground and reappear again. The last overground river flows into Coole Lake and all water makes its way to the sea at Kinvara underground.
Why does flooding in South Galway happen?
In its simplest form, flooding happens when there is too much water for the underground network to take. The underground channels cannot expand their capacity which leads to several basins (or Turloughs) starting to fill up. Flooding crises happen when the Turlough levels rise unconstrained to swamp roads, farms, farm buildings, homes, businesses, national parks, heritage sites etc.
What is causing the recent flooding?
There are several factors here. Most of the farming community believe that water is coming down off the Slieve Aughty mountains faster than it ever used to do in previous times. If we see what has changed over the past 30-40 years, there has been a lot of land changes in the mountains. There is a lot of forestry with associated drains and roads, there are windfarms that we suspect have changed the mountain hydrology. There is also the factor of increased rainfall and potential climage change aspects with wetter winters.
What are the impacts?
Flooding is causing a massive impact on communities in South Galway.
- It brings the road network to a halt (2015.16 floods closed 60 roads)
- It has isolated whole communities for 56 days
- It has blocked access on key roads for over 100 days.
- It has flooded 1000s of acres across 200 farms
- It had flooded/badly threatened….
- over 30 farm buildings
- over 70 homes
- over 12 businesses
- churches, heritage sites
- our national parks/SACs
Flooding is a worry every year in the winter storms season – from November until end of March.
This has been happening for 30 years and nothing had been done – can we fix his?
Yes – this is solvable and there are 2 main aspects of the solution
- Implement better land management practices in the upland.
- Manage Turlough Maximum Flood levels
Better Land Management
Manage the forest canopy, implement ‘slow-the-flow’ methods, incentivize farmers to adopt flood-mitigation aspects.
Target Turlough Levels?
This is the key solution because while land management can help with flash flooding type of scenarios but may not have as much an impact on the overall lowland flooding. The first thing we need is a target level for each turlough so that it ..
- .. is safe for homes, most roads, farm sheds, businesses
- .. maintains the integrity of the SAC
- .. enables water levels to be managed (from mountain to sea)
How do we keep turlough to these levels?
We already have most of the answers here, because Turloughs currently naturally overflow along certain routes – they just cause havoc when they do. We need to refine these routes to that they take away that goes above a pre-determined level. While there are many flood mitigation options – both the design consultants and many in the community talk about oveflow ‘channels’. (See Flooding Solutions – ‘The Coole Lake Channel’)
These are not new solution. Most countries have storm-channels/drains that take away water from winter storms and channel it safely to the sea (or other) . This would be similar.
The overflow channels we are talking would only have water in them for a few weeks every 5-6 years. They would not be massive highways of concrete –
Can’t we just dig the channels now?
This is where the complexity comes in. In theory we could create several channels that link up the Turloughs and bring water to the sea but there are issues with this.
- What size should these be?
- Where should these be located?
- What are the downstream impacts?
We have seen in the past works done on the mid-catchment (Gort, Castletown etc) that have simply pushed more water downstream where it causes even more problems. This area is also riddled with SACs and we have to make sure impacts are known. We can’t just offload water as we have done in the past and improve one area and cross our fingers that there are no downstream impacts.
What this means is that we have to do a full forensic analysis and gain a complete understanding of all the hydrology and how water flows in the area. This is extremely challenging when you don’t know exactly where water is flowing or the size of channels etc. This is where we need an in-depth analysis, the likes of which has never been undertaken in Ireland before. This is why we have needed extensive scientific research involving experts from Trinity, GSI and others.
What is the South Galway/Gort Lowlands project – feasibility study?
In 2016, the South Galway/Gort Lowlands Flood Relief project kicked off and its 1st goal was to apply scientific methods to determine viable solutions for South Galway. This involved the following
- Home and Land survey around the areas of the flooding
- Building of a Hydrology model for the area, including full topography of the area to be able to simulate flooding scenarios as well as solution viability.
- Analyzing Climate change impacts
- Environmental impacts and analysis
- Setting of Maximum Target Turlough Flood Levels
- Detailed solution design with agreed
- Cost-benefit analysis
The feasibility study will ultimately decide if this project is feasible from both a Cost-Benefit and Environmental point of view.
To set expectations – all of this analysis will probably end up detailing a very boring and mind-numbingly simple solution e.g. we need a channel 2m deep, 20m wide and 120m long between point A and B.
Where are we now with this project?
Due to the complexity of the task – the project feasibility has been delayed by 18 months. The final feasibility is due this April (2020). The good news is that from preliminary analysis – an overall technical solution to the flooding scenarios exists! The concerning news is that we don’t know if this passes both the cost-benefit and environmental point of view.
What happens if we don’t make the Cost-Benefit cut?
Firstly, we are not happy with the measurement criteria as it is more suited toward urban flooding, not flooding in a rural area. We are also not happy that with the ‘Cycle-of-Wastage’ we see here. €13 million was spend on emergency flooding relief in Galway in 2015/16 floods – most in South Galway. We then will spend money (more millions) doing a report which will then ultimately say it’s not feasible. So, we better make the cut.
If we don’t make the cut on paper – our public representatives (Ciaran Cannon, Sean Canney and Anne Rabbitte) have assured us that they will call on top-level Government Commitment to ‘fix’ this and bridge any gap between cost and benefit.
A fact that is currently being highlighted by the communities here is that the Government enables large wasteful fines build up for finds on the Derrybrien windfarm (Which locals believe is exacerbating the flooding) and if they can waste €5 million of taxpayers money on fines for poor development, surely they can spend this bridging a gap in CBA – and finally fix South Galway flooding – like they committed to.
What happens if we don’t make the environmental cut?
I think people will be baying for NPWS heads again and many questions will be asked and many fingers will point to the EU again as happened in the last flooding event.
This project should actually be a prime example of how we are saving SACs by ensuring our Turloughs don’t flood to levels where they then pollute SACs and it would be absolutely ridiculous if we are actually protecting 7-8 SACS (with their multitude of their conservation objectives) . See ‘The Killing of Coole’
So – it’s all about the decision in the next few weeks?
Yes – there are several phases to full development, but this is the first possibility that the project will fail – We have been told that there is a solution, but we need to move beyond this and get the past the cut.
We have a horrible legacy of failure here, but we have also the best chance we have had in years. We have more knowledge and awareness than we’ve ever had before – we have had Galway County Council, OPW, Ryan-Hanley and Mott MacDonald all aligned and working very hard on this. We have a dedicated and hardworking committee progressively driving this – we have had great collaboration. We have strong and sincere commitments from our public representatives, our TDs and our County Councillors.
We acknowledge people are working hard and doing their best – but we absolutely have to get this solution.
As you can see from the recent flooding, South Galway absolutely needs an immediate solution and we are coming to a critical point now – If this fails then South Galway will be having a long engagement with flooding well into the future.
We can’t let this happen so please support us here !