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Eamon Ryan on flood walls: 'We're gonna need a bigger boat'

Dublin was lucky last autumn but we only need to be unlucky once to regret the lack of preparation for the new risks we face, writes Eamon Ryan.

Eamon Ryan TD and leader of the Green Party

ON THE AFTERNOON of Hurricane Ophelia you could see big Atlantic waves rolling up the Irish Sea at the same time as mini twisters were whipping up sea water round Scotsman’s Bay in Dun Laoghaire.

It was like watching Beaufort’s wind scale being demonstrated in real life.

We were lucky in Dublin at the time because the tides were low and at the last minute the hurricane veered westerly where it died going over the cold waters along the west coast of Clare. Had it instead taken a final tilt eastwards Ophelia could  have sent a much bigger storm surge up the Irish Sea, which could have flooded Dublin Bay and threatened the entire east coast.

Clontarf’s flood wall

In that regard the decision by Dublin City Council to lower the flood wall along the Clontarf coast road seems remarkably short sighted.

We all know how nice it is to drive around with a full view of the bay but at some point that lack of protection is going  to put the area at risk, which we will then deeply regret.

We are going to have the same issue on the south side as the plans to raise the sea wall along the Strand Road will run into the same problem.

At some point we will have to choose between wanting to retain the sea view for the car driver and wanting to avoid having out sandbags to Sandymount residents when they have to hold back some future storm tide.

Double those levels

The Dublin City councillors who decided to scale back the wall say they are only making a minimal change but the measures we are taking were already on the conservative side.

Most of our flood protection measures are being made with the assumption that there will only be a half a metere rise in sea levels by the end of the century. Many climate scientists are now raising the prospect of a rise which is at least double those levels.

Our response cannot always be to build ever higher walls to try and hold back the problem. Because  of climate change we are dealing with a triple whammy of sea level rise, increased rainfall, especially in the north and west and also stronger and more frequent storm systems where extreme low pressure areas allow the water levels to rise even further.

Guard was down

Galway also got away lightly during Ophelia which is perhaps why the Council’s guard was down when Storm Eleanor hit last week. Three days of powerful westerly winds pushed water right up Galway Bay just as the full moon was rising and the Corrib was in full flow.

The temporary boom that was placed between O’Brien’s Bridge and the Spanish Arch was washed away and for the first time in living memory it was Dominick street and not just Quay Street which was flooded.

The engineers in Galway know they have a particular problem managing that pinch point, where all the run-off water from the Galway and Mayo hinterlands run down the Corrib only to meet the rising incoming tide.

No new wall will easily contain the meeting of those two water flows. We are going to have to think of creative ways in which the centre of the city can adapt.

Long-term solutions

In Cork we will also have to move away from building up the city quay walls and instead start thinking of bigger and more long-term solutions.

If we are to be really ambitious about the development of the southern capital then we should be willing to invest in a new tidal barrage across the lower reaches of Cork Harbour rather than trying to hold back the waters in the city centre core.

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We need to start investing for the next two hundred years rather than the next two decades which is where our government is currently at.

We  also need to start managing the Shannon and protecting Athlone and Limerick and all points in between in a different way. Rather than thinking that dredging the river is going to provide a solution we should be introducing a river management system which works all the way from the Cavan/Fermanagh border right down to the estuary.

We should integrate flood prevention into a new national land use plan where we pay farmers and foresters to play their part by designing fields and forests which hold waters back rather than letting them run off into ever faster rivers and streams.

A bigger boat

Dublin was lucky last autumn but we only need to be unlucky once to regret the lack of preparation for the new risks we face. Galway ran out of luck last week when the high tide came at the height of the storm.

We should be learning from that lesson. As Captain Brody said in the film Jaws: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Eamon Ryan is a TD and leader of the Green Party.

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About the author:

Eamon Ryan  / TD and leader of the Green Party

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