A survey of the River Barrow has revealed that extensive work is needed clearing silt islands to prevent flooding in Portarlington and on farmland along Laois borders with Kildare and Offaly.
The cause of the problem is natural, but lack of maintenance means the solution will be costly and take time.
A preliminary survey carried out by Laois County Council estimates that work on just 13 kms of the river will cost some €600,000 with a further €70,800 in council staff costs.
However, the total cost of clearance work is likely to run much higher than this as substantial work will also have to be carried out in Kildare and Offaly. Those counties are also preparing reports in the hope of getting the money needed from the Office of Public Works.
The report says the natural cycle of the river is for silt and debris from the Slieve Blooms to be carried down along the river and be deposited at its flattest points. However, the catchement area north of Athy covers 400,000 acres but is “extremely flat” making it prone to flooding, says the report.
“The catchment area upstream of Athy suffers severely from flooding, this can be accounted for due to insufficient falls and restricted channel capacity,” said the report.
The council's engineering section undertook an on-site surve of 13 miles of the river this June after the wet month of May. It found that while parts of the river are quite wide, “substantial deposits of silt” are in places “restricting the channel greatly”. There are also over hanging trees both big and small which cause problems.
In some places the silt islands are almost blocking the river.
Laois is fully responsible for the river around Portarlington.
The survey points out that that the river is not as wide in this section but there is “quite a lot of side vegetation and trees overhanging, and also parts of the river banks have slipped away.”
The report points out that the stretch around Portarlington is prone to flooding with waters remaining for up to ten days.
“Maintenance work on the River Barrow is a continual task and committment for the neighbouring counties of Laois Offaly and Kildare.
“Once funding is approved any proposed work will have to be approved by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Fisheries board.
“Work will be done from the beginning of July to the end of September in any given year,” said the survey.
Kildare and Offaly have yet to complete surveys on what is required on their sides of the river. Laois County Council have met with the outside agencies and agreement will have to be reached with all sides before work begins. Council staff believe the carrying out of the work depends on funding from the OPW. This is unlikely to be allocated until all councils have plans in place to address problems.