It has been a long journey through many difficult times for the communities of South Galway and North Clare as the severity and frequency of flooding has led to an increased yearly threat of flooding in the past 4 decades.
We are now in a very unique situation where we finally have a real chance of ending this flooding threat as we have just received news of a feasible solution found for South Galway Flooding!
Against a legacy of failure
The legacy of South Galway flooding has been a long-term repeating cycle of failure. Severe flooding, followed by distressed calls for flood action, in-the-moment Ministerial support (and visits in lorries, helicopters and boats ) and promises of solutions. This would then be followed up by expensive reports being commissioned that conclude with distinctive ‘no’ regarding progression of a feasible solution.
There is also a war of attrition going on for the past four decades. As flooding steadily gets worse then the only consistent tool in the OPWs/Galway COuny Conucil’s flooding solution war-chest was relocation, remedial work and road-raising respectively. All of these chipped away at what would be a significant benefit of a strategic cost-benefit solution for a full flood relief solution.
Weigh in the semi-state bodies like Coillte and ESB who have used the Slieve Aughty slopes, exacerbating the flooding while eloquently avoiding the same environmental constraints that limited feasible solutions. And let’s throw unprecedented rainfall and climate change too boot!
People got relocated, roads got raised, motorways got built, rain got worse – The system was completely broken with the situation worsening and no viable solutions emerging. The problem was intractable – the underground networks and connectivity were a mystery and this became the main blocker to any form of solution – If you are not able to understand the impacts of digging channels at certain sizes throughout South Galway, then you couldn’t guarantee that you wouldn’t flood homes downstream and because of Environmental considerations this unpredictability became a flood-relief scheme killer.
Because of this issue – with all the will in the world, there was no real chance of getting a feasible solution. There is no doubt that we have had Government support throughout these 4 decades, Yes – we have had Taoisigh Albert Reynolds, John Bruton, Bertie Enda Kenny, Leo Varadkar and Michael Martin pledging support of a broken system. We have Presidents Robinson, McAleese and Higgins spending time in South Galway nodding compassionately to mothers who have lost their homes, their wedding albums and their neighbours.
“This is a most important step in the process of solving the problem of flooding in South Galway. It is the most comprehensive study and the remedies to be put in place will be long-term and the Government is giving the South Galway situation top priority. ” March 17th 1995
Mr Michael D. Higgins TD,. Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht
This is the real legacy of South Galway flooding and if you were a gambler, the odds of getting a flood relief solution for South Galway were stacked firmly against a positive outcome
This legacy of failure to deliver meaningful flood relief solutions over the past 4 decades has left a heavy skepticism in the community.
Flood committee involvement has actually gone through a family generation like Billy Fogarty to son Ray all looking for some solution of getting water flowing.
The concept of an overflow channel connecting Turloughs was first muted in 1960 when there was severe flooding in South Galway. In a meeting in Labane in April 1992, Michael Ryder of Ardrahan suggested that we should ‘Cut a channel from Coole Lough to Kinvara like the late Mick Donnellan suggested 30 years ago in Labane. He would have done it too but it would have cost £3 million and there was no money in the kitty“. So the foresight of a ‘channel’ came from Mick Donnellan.
The ‘Channel’ has been touted each and every decade since. The open question came down to the details of this channel. It has manifested from something as simple as “2 pipes laid between Coole Lake and Kinvara” (March 1994 ) to a 7.5m deep channel of 5 km length (Jennings’s – O’ Donovan 1998 ) – To be fair- with the complexities of the South Galway underground system – it was anyone’s guess. Fundamentally – this was the key issue. How big was this channel (or channels touted in Peach’s report ( 1995 ) , how much would it cost and what would its impact be?
In 1995, Senator Frank Fahy pointed out that the price put on a channel from Coole to the sea was £32 million and in 2010 that number had been indicated at €48,010,384 – a number that would bury any chance of a solution – The strange thing was that the only metric being counted was cost and not benefit. Tag a number of greater than €10 million and it became infeasible. Even the gargantuan Jennings-O’Donovan report noted the €48 million figure and didn’t even bother with counting the benefit.
Honing the right tools
For all the will in the world, and aforementioned politicians, public servants, engineers, IFA committees, communities, flood committees, religious organizations; the scale and complexities were insurmountable. Best-guesses at underground complexities with the ever present constraints of environmental impacts couldn’t frame a solution that ticked all boxes. At each new ‘flooding survey/report’ emerged, they were touted as unprecedented, substantial and scientific but they were just too primitive to get to a meaningful conclusion – the complexity of the South Galway hydrology always led hit an intractable wall.
From 2008, however a quiet revolution was happening in the Irish hydrology landscape. South Galway became a focus for hydrology research under the tutorship of Paul Johnson, TCD. Paul with some emerging TD students Ted McCormick, Owen Naughten and Laurence Gill, set about developing digital models of underground hydrology networks and started to apply new and emerging analysis techniques to gain better understanding of these complex systems.
As they worked through their research using Turlough monitors, they started to develop digital model to approximate the underground dynamics. They looked at Turlough level interdependence and methods to gauge underground connectivity and sizes.
After the 2015 floods occurred and in light of the devastation rendered onto South Galway – Independent TDs Denis Naughten and Sean Canney (with some well-intentioned prodding by South Galway Flood Relief committee (Sorry Sean! ) ) formulated a plan which resulted in the secondment of Ted and Owen from TCD to GSI on a GSI Groundwater project (GWFlood ) to finally figure out Turlough-based flooding dynamics in Ireland – with special emphasis on South Galway.
Their South Galway research at that date had relied on partial Turlough Monitoring. Within a year, GSI had added monitors to every major Turlough in South Galway and their analysis was furthered bolstered by an EU project called Copernicus which provided detailed satellite imagery for the six years previous. They were able to use this to analyse the Turlough boundaries during that time (including the 2015 floods ) .
The final part of their ‘toolkit’ came from commissioning LiDAR analysis of South Galway which provided extremely detailed topography of the area where they could accurately measure Turlough volumes (as opposed to levels ). This data allowed GSI/TCD to accurately gauge the differing Turlough volumes and estimate the main relationships and capacity of the underground networks. This they fed into Patrick Morrissey of TCD to help craft a precise hydrology model of South Galway. From blunt instruments GSI and TCD were able to develop analysis tools of a more surgical precision.
This activity resulted in an unparalleled understanding of the hydrology of South Galway and the corresponding hydrology dynamics into the future with the provision of a digital hydrology model. This was the promised big game-changer for South Galway and while it took several years to develop it emerged as a tool that could be used to gauge impacts and solutions for Sough Galway. There were two key uses of this model.
It could be used to gauge the levels of flooding into the future which fed into the flooding impacts (and subsequent benefit for flood relief solutions )It could be used to understand potential flooding solutions and their impacts.This was the ultimate tool to size the proposed channels using a sound scientific basis.
A final supplement to this model was a survey undertaken by the South Galway Gort lowlands design consultants, Ryan-Hanley, which detailed the levels of homes, farms, business, heratige sites (Thoor Ballylee ), road and motorways in South Galway and with this hydrology model was able to assess the future impacts of flooding on the various communities in South Galway.
This delivered a method based on robust scientific fundamentals with the precision required by all protagonists to explore flood relief solutions for South Galway.Having the surgical tool in hand was no guarantee of a solution. The way forward was a painstaking slow analysis, development and refinement of potential solutions, many of which ended up in the proverbial bin. This took tens of thousands of hours to find and fine-tune solutions.
And so it has emerged – a successful thread of the needle has brought about an exceptional and unique conclusion. After decades of turmoil for many in South Galway, after decades of disappointment and frustration with infeasible solutions we have finally found a feasible solution to flooding in South Galway that is backed by scientific forensic analysis.
There is a viable solution to flooding in South Galway which means that an investment in a solution here will save money in the long term and bring an end to the devastating threat that has plagued our community for over sixty years. There is a lot of work yet to be done and many challenges ahead before we realise the full solution and while we are now in unchartered territory, we have overcome the decades-long challenge of South Galway not being worth saving.
South Galway has always been worth saving, we now know what it takes to save us and there are no longer any excuses to stop this from happening.While the devil may be in the detail, we have been assured of that we have a viable solution to flooding in this region and we can now look forward to a significantly diminished threat of severe flooding that had become to many the legacy of life in South Galway.
Note : more details will emerge in the coming days.
The intentions of our public representatives have always been to alleviate flooding in South Galway and we have so many people highlighting this in the past — from Councillors Toddie Byrne, Michael Cunningham and Michael Fahy, Bridie Willers, and community activists such as Mattie Hannon, Michael Kelly, P. J. Baldwin, Billy Fogarty, and many more, in pushing for this solution throughout the past number of decades. The IFA, who were strong supporters in the 1990’s have not been as efficient in recent times but they may finally deliver on their 30-year journey of getting farmers a viable farm relocation package.
The turning point in recent times can be brought back to Taoiseach Enda Kenny who expanded the ministerial position of OPW to include Flood Relief and was steadfast in his support for this project. This position was assigned to our local representative Deputy Sean Canney who kickstarted the South Galway/Gort Lowlands Flood Relief Scheme and who with Deputy Denis Naughten found the investment in the GSI GWFlood project.
I would also like to acknowledge the work of Cllr Joe Byrne who brought his engineering intelligence and local drive to the fore and also the growing influence of our more recent county Councillors as this solution progresses. (Geraldine Donohue and PJ Murphy )
Deputy Ciaran Cannon has been a great voice in Government and made sure this was kept relevant for the previous Government and Minister Anne Rabbitte for her continued tenacious support in this cause.
Very strong acknowledgements to Ted McCormick, Owen Naughten and Patrick J. Morrissey of GSI and TCD who did the hard work on figuring out South Galway hydrology and to the tireless efforts of Ryan Hanley (Conor Warner, who left no stone unturned in searching for flooding benefit ), Mott MacDonald (Rita Mansfield ) to find a feasible solution. Also credit to NPWS (Dr Enda Mooney ) who helped to clarify SPA/SAC constraints.
Also to Galway County Council and in particular to the stellar work of Enda Gallagher who is the focal point of all this effort (and sometimes the man at the centre of the storm ). Credit also to Richard Dooley and colognes at the OPW.
I would also like to acknowledge the drive of the previous committees in the past that have pushed South Galway Flood relief onto the national agenda including the South Galway Core Group for Developing the West Together and the South Galway Flood Victims Action Group. I would of course like to acknowledge my colleagues and stewards on the South Galway Flood Relief Committee (SGFRC ) who have been working tirelessly since 2016 to progress the flood relief agenda for all the communities in South Galway. This committed committee consists of David Murray (Chair ), Eugene Nolan (co-chair ), Tommy Fahy, Colm Burke, Michael Cahill, Pat Quinn, Michael Flaherty, Seamus Kelly, Martin McInerney and Ray Fogarty!
Finally, I have to acknowledge the support of my family especially my wonderful wife Sharon who gave me the space and support that I needed to help get this very large wheel turning in the right direction and moving on this project so we could rid our community of this ever present flooding nightmare. — David Murray