05 Oct 2022

Minister promises to remove Shannon River pinchpoints

Minister promises to remove Shannon River pinchpoints

Pictured l. to r. Pippa Hackette, Eanna Rowe, Waterways Ireland and Minister Patrick O'Donovan in Banagher Marina last week.

The government has once again promised to remove pinchpoints along the Shannon between Meelick Weir and Athlone.

On Thursday, Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW), Patrick O’Donovan, visited the region, an area that is prone to demoralising flooding.

He was joined by Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Pippa Hackett, as well as OPW engineers and representatives from Waterways Ireland.

Travelling from Banagher to Meelick weir, the Ministers were shown the area of the Shannon Callows where the planned removal of constrictions, or ‘pinch points’, can help to alleviate flooding in the area. Afterwards, both Ministers met with representatives from the Save our Shannon Group and the Irish Farmers’ Association.

Minister O’Donovan said: “Through the Shannon Flood Risk State Agency Co-ordination Working Group, the OPW works closely with all State Agencies involved in the River Shannon to introduce measures that can assist with managing flood risk in the catchment. There are 11 communities in the Shannon River Basin District already benefitting from completed flood relief schemes which are protecting people and properties from the risk of flooding. A further 38 schemes will be delivered in the Shannon area under the Government’s €1bn investment in flood relief measures over the lifetime of the National Development Plan.

“Collectively, all of these schemes when completed will protect 95% of those properties identified as being at significant risk from flooding. The OPW will also provide €7m to implement a programme of strategic maintenance upstream of Ardnacrusha to assist with mitigating flooding and the removal of a number of ‘pinch points’ through the Shannon Callows that can help to delay flooding in the area. Some €4m of this funding relates directly to the removal of the several pinch points in the Callows region.”

Studies carried out as part of the Shannon Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management (CFRAM) Study and the Shannon Flood Risk State Agency Co-ordination Working Group highlighted potential benefits and informed the decision to remove a number of pinch points in the Callows region. Work is advancing and a project brief is currently being prepared for the appointment of a project consultant to identify and manage all of the activities that are necessary to progress through the planning process to enable the commencement of the works. These works can only commence following completion of the appropriate environmental assessments and following receipt of planning permission.

Senator Pippa Hackett said it had been a very beneficial fact-finding visit to the Shannon Callows.

With some officials from Waterways Ireland and the OPW, she travelled by boat from Banagher to Meelick Weir, before meeting with farmers from the IFA and Save our Shannon.

Speaking after the trip which was facilitated by Minister O’Donovan and the Office of Public Works, the Minister said:
“This was a really valuable visit, during which it became clear to me that there are different issues which need clarification, as well as action. I realised that while everyone affected by multi-year summer flooding wants action on ‘pinch-points, there are different interpretations as to what these are.

“Both interpretations need addressing. The first – those pinch points along the river bed, which if removed from the navigation channel, will, in turn, allow for the water level, controlled for navigation, to be lowered. Minister O’Donovan has committed to this work, but recognises it is a long term project.

“The second interpretation of pinch points refers to the build-up of silt and vegetation visible above the water level at various locations. I understand that the management of these falls into the remit of the OPW maintenance programme, and I have asked Minister O’Donovan to provide to me an update on the current status of this maintenance programme.

“This is about balancing needs, and it needs to be done fairly. The River Shannon is important for tourism, but it also has impacts on farmers and biodiversity, and we need to get that right.

“I also however accept the OPW’s view that while maintenance or larger works may act to delay a flood, they are unlikely to prevent it altogether.”

The visit was Minister Hackett’s second one to the River Shannon Callows area in recent months but her first with Minister O’Donovan. Referring to the opportunity to interact with him and his officials, she said:

“I am grateful to have seen and heard first-hand the efforts that are underway by Minister O’Donovan’s department to mitigate the more frequent summer flooding.”

Minister Hackett concluded: “This summer flooding, no longer once in 100 years, or even once in a generation, is compounded by climate change and has a direct negative impact on livelihoods and biodiversity, specifically in the area that concerns me most, West Offaly. I will continue to work with farmers with a focus on solutions to a rapidly changing situation.”

The last serious flooding incident in the Shannon Callows was just before the Pandemic in February 2020. The outgoing Minister of State for the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief at the time, Kevin Boxer Moran said there needed to be an emergency scheme for farmers following the flooding. The former Independent TD for Westmeath-Longford had just narrowly lost his seat in the February 2020 general election, and he told the media that in his lifetime he had never seen the Shannon at the levels it had just reached. “More than eight inches of rain has fallen in the past few weeks,” he said. “That is an enormous amount of rainfall.”

Boxer Moran achieved more than any previous minister when it came to the subject of flooding in the Shannon basin. However this was considerably less than the work he had initially aspired to and was certainly far less that what many landowners and farmers wanted. Boxer had committed to removing several pinchpoints but got around to no more than a couple. Some of these pinchpoints lessen the river's original width by half.

But Boxer should be given credit for doing more than any politician before him. “Look where we came from,” he told critics in February 2020, with good reason. “There have been 98 schemes.” One of these schemes is the embankment (bund) constructed beside Portavolla housing estate in Banagher to protect the estate from flooding.

Much work remains to be done. Everyone is hoping that Ministers Hackett and O'Donovan will prove up to the task and won't perpetuate a policy of ineffectiveness which has been the dominant theme in the management of the Shannon during the history of the state.

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