We need action on Shannon flooding now, not new laws in a decade
The ESB opened sluice gates in Athlone last July to allow more water into the Shannon Callows as flood waters rose at Meelick Weir. This exposes the fact that there is little co-ordination between the ESB and Waterways Ireland on the management of water levels on the river, says Denis Naughten TD.
He told Dáil Éireann: “On 3 July, as Waterways Ireland opened the gates at Meelick to reduce the rising waters – at far too slow a rate I must add – the ESB decided to open two additional sluice gates in Athlone, bringing it to six gates opened in Athlone. All six gates were left open for the next five days until the lands of farmers north of Meelick were flooded. For five days, there was no co-ordination between the ESB in Athlone and Waterways Ireland in Meelick. In between, the people within the Shannon Callows were flooded. That was the fundamental problem that led to the flooding that took place last July and during summer. It was because of a lack of co-ordination”.
He called for immediate action to give the Office of Public Works legal responsibility for the co-ordination of all operations to alleviate summer flooding and the scale of winter flooding along the River Shannon and its tributaries
But the former Minister also cautioned against the view that a single Shannon Authority would solve all problems, pointing out that it would take a decade before it would become operational.
He said that while Minister he had worked with former Independent Ministers, Sean Canney & Kevin Boxer Moran, and they were firmly of the view that such a Shannon Agency would pose complex legal challenges that would take at least five years to resolve, but only with determined political focus.
He went on to point out that he, along with Kevin Boxer Moran and his predecessor Sean Canney, were the only Government Ministers to successfully carry out maintenance on the River Shannon since the foundation of the State and that this work needed to be continued until Meelick Weir was removed altogether.
He said that the immediate focus must be first, to properly manage the water levels on the lakes and at weirs; second, to remove the pinch points south of Athlone, which will ultimately lead within the next five years to the removal of Meelick Weir; third, to remove the pinch points north of Lough Ree and fourth, to carry out an ongoing maintenance programme on the Shannon and its tributaries.
Watch the full contribution here:
Dáil Éireann debate –
Tuesday, 3 Nov 2020
River Shannon Management Agency Bill 2020: Second Stage
Denis Naughten TD: I welcome and fully support the objective behind the Bill. Having worked with the then Ministers of State, Deputy Canney and Kevin Boxer Moran, regarding the Shannon flood risk State agency co-ordination working group, as some of the State agencies in the group came under my responsibility when I was Minister, I know at first hand the challenges that exist and exactly what the Minister has elaborated and pointed out in his contribution. When I was Minister, we tried to amalgamate Bord na Móna and Coillte and that had to be abandoned because of the legal complexities involved in bringing two relatively young State agencies together. If a new agency is to be established, it will take at least five years to produce legislation and this will then be challenged the whole way to Europe. I can safely say that it will be a decade from now at the earliest before it becomes operational. We need to be honest with people in that regard.
The reality is that we do not have ten years. We need to see action now to address summer flooding and the scale of winter flooding, which families in my community are experiencing as we speak. I accept the core argument for the Bill, that is, that we do need a single, accountable authority that has the legal authority, first, to manage the water levels on the lakes and at weirs; second, to remove the pinch points south of Athlone, which will ultimately lead within the next five years to the removal of Meelick Weir; third, to remove the pinch points north of Lough Ree and; fourth, to carry out an ongoing maintenance programme on the Shannon and its tributaries.
I believe that legal responsibility should be given to the OPW to achieve those four objectives, as well as a legal responsibility to address flooding in general. This should be put in place now. I agree with the core argument behind this Bill that there is a lack of co-ordination.
In a reply to a parliamentary question on 13 October, the Minister of State stated:
The ESB is responsible for managing the water levels on Lough Allen, Lough Ree and Lough Derg. The levels in between the lakes are managed by Waterways Ireland for navigation purposes. Both organisations are members of the [co-ordination] group and communicate on a daily basis to ensure a co-ordinated approach to managing water levels.
On 3 July last, Waterways Ireland had half of its 30 sluice gates at Meelick weir open. The protocol stipulated that on that day it should open all of the gates as the water levels were continuing to rise. Between 3 July and 7 July, just five of the 15 gates were opened. On 3 July, however, as Waterways Ireland opened the gates at Meelick to reduce the rising waters – at far too slow a rate I must add – the ESB decided to open two additional sluice gates in Athlone, bringing it to six gates opened in Athlone. All six gates were left open for the next five days until the lands of farmers north of Meelick were flooded. For five days, there was no co-ordination between the ESB in Athlone and Waterways Ireland in Meelick. In between, the people within the Shannon Callows were flooded. That was the fundamental problem that led to the flooding that took place last July and during summer. It was because of a lack of co-ordination.
I have been consistently told here from meetings that I had with the ESB down through the years that we could not address the water levels on Lough Ree, Lough Allen and Lough Derg. These all need to be reduced to provide additional capacity. When Brian Hayes was in the Minister of State’s position, however, the operational level of Lough Ree was reduced by a full metre on a pilot basis. When Kevin Boxer Moran was Minister of State, Lough Allen’s level was reduced by 0.7 m. It can and has been done despite what the ESB has said in the past. It is clear that there is a lack of co-ordination.
In a reply to a parliamentary question on 1 October, the Minister of State indicated that a decision was taken last year to allocate €7 million to carry out a programme of maintenance between Athlone and Meelick in order to remove the pinch points. That money was secured by the OPW, which handed over €500,000 to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to allow Waterways Ireland to carry out the various implementation programmes that need to be done in advance of works starting. That has not happened, however. Again, a decision was taken 12 months ago and funding was provided to Waterways Ireland by the OPW but we will not see action until sometime next year. That is why I believe we need a short Bill to give the OPW legal responsibility for this, hold it accountable for it and let it drive the change that clearly is not happening as I have identified.
I have raised the problems relating to turloughs in Roscommon and Galway privately with the Minister of State and with the chair of the OPW. There are problems with Lough Funshinagh and Correal turlough outside of Roscommon town. There are also problems with Castleplunket, Bushfield and Lisserdrea turloughs. For the first three of those, we have a practical solution. What we need to see, however, is action.
We also need to see the cost-benefit analysis. A commitment was given that the cost-benefit analysis would clearly reflect the impact that flooding of turloughs has where water remains for a considerable time, unlike the flash flooding that would take place in other parts of the country. That cost-benefit analysis has yet to be introduced. Will the Minister of State introduce a specific cost-benefit analysis of turloughs in order that we have a fair assessment of projects that can be carried out to alleviate problems within their catchment areas?
At Lough Funshinagh, in the past five years some 300 acres of land that historically never flooded have been permanently underwater. As a result of that, farmers recently received threatening letters from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I raised this issue directly with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and informed him that what is happening was unacceptable. These letters contain threats to penalise farmers because, through no fault of their own, 300 acres of land that would historically have been available for farming are not now available. We need to see a flexible approach being taken by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with the basic payment scheme and with areas of natural constraints payments. Practical short-term solutions must be brought in to protect homes and farms within the catchment areas of these turloughs with long-term solutions brought forward as a matter of urgency.
Dáil reply referenced in debate
For Written Answer on : 01/10/2020
Question Number(s): 148,166 Question Reference(s): 27992/20, 27993/20
Department: Housing, Local Government and Heritage
Asked by: Denis Naughten T.D.
* To ask the Minister for Housing; Local Government and Heritage the protocol for the closure of sluice gates in Athlone and the dates in July 2020 that the ESB closed sluice gates in Athlone; the number closed on each date; the protocol for the removal of boards and the opening of sluice gates in Meelick; the dates in July 2020 that Waterways Ireland opened sluice gates and removed boards; the number of boards removed and gates opened on each date; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
– Denis Naughten T.D.
For WRITTEN answer on Thursday, 1 October, 2020.
* To ask the Minister for Housing; Local Government and Heritage the protocol for the removal of boards and the opening of sluice gates in Meelick; the dates in July 2020 that Waterways Ireland staff or their agents opened sluice gates and removed boards; and the number of boards removed and gates opened on each date; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
– Denis Naughten T.D.
For WRITTEN answer on Thursday, 1 October, 2020.
The protocol for the closure of sluice gates in Athone is determined by the ESB.
If the sluice gates are closed in Athlone, Waterways Ireland will carry out an appropriate sluice operation in the Meelick area.
Waterways Ireland as the Inland Navigation Authority, operates the sluices and weir boards in the Meelick area. There are 30 sluices south of Banagher. They are on two channels in parallel in the Meelick area with
– 18 sluices on the new cut; and
– 12 sluices on Meelick weir.
Waterways Ireland has stated that the operating procedure is as follows:
When water levels are indicated as being at 2.18 (35.41) metres on the gauge at Banagher and falling, sluices are closed on either the new cut or Meelick weir. This regime continues when all but 3 to 5 sluices are closed and water levels continue to fall. The weir boards are installed on the 57 bays of the weir to maintain water levels for Navigation purposes. The reverse applies when water levels at the gauge at Banagher exceed 2.18 metres and sluices are opened in the Meelick area and the weir boards removed.
The table below shows the number of sluice gates open and closed by the ESB and Waterways Ireland and the number of boards removed for the month of July 2020.
|BANAGHER AREA/MEELICK||ATHLONE SOUTH|
|DATE||Water Level||SLUICES OPEN||RAINFALL(mm)||WEIR BOARDS||W.L.||SLUICES OPEN||RAINFALL(mm)|
|9th July||35.43||25||11.1||REMOVED ILLEGALLY||36.06||0||10.3|
|10th July||35.44||26||0||OUT/Retrieving weir boards||36.04||0||0|
|13th July||35.34||30||0.4||OUT/Retrieving weir boards||36.09||0||0|
|14th July||35.33||30||0||OUT/Retrieving weir boards||36.09||0||0|