Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 5 March 2024

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action

Fish Migration and Barriers to Migration: Discussion (Resumed)

Mr. Jim Casey:

I thank the Chair and the committee members for their invitation to attend this meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action. I am joined this morning by my colleague, Mr. Cian Ó Dónaill, south-west division and environment section of the Office of Public Works.

The OPW appreciates the committee’s invitation to discuss the subject of fish migration and barriers to migration. In these brief opening remarks, I will outline for the committee the important role the OPW plays in flood risk management, arterial drainage maintenance and related environmental considerations, in particular, those concerning fish migration and I will note our ongoing engagement with Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI.

Under the OPW’s climate responsive flood risk management brief, we co-ordinate a whole-of-Government approach to managing Ireland’s flood risk from rivers and the sea, the primary sources of Ireland’s flood risk. The OPW's core objective is to reduce, to the greatest extent possible, the impact of flooding on homes and businesses, and the consequent risk to life in communities known to be at significant flood risk.

Since 2018, as part of a phased approach to scheme delivery, national development plan, NDP, funding of some €1.3 billion has allowed the OPW to treble its work on flood relief schemes to some 100 schemes currently at design, planning or construction at this time. Many of these schemes are being led by local authorities in partnership with the OPW. Some 23,000 at-risk properties will benefit from this NDP investment. As each scheme is progressed by a multi-disciplinary team, designing the optimal technical solution, ensuring a robust approach to environmental assessments, and meeting other regulatory requirements are all essential steps.

Barriers to fish passage are a major issue of concern with respect to the biodiversity in our rivers and lakes. There are many human-made barriers in the form of weirs, bridges and culverts in our rivers. The OPW has been aware of this and is focused on, where possible, the removal of existing barriers, avoiding the creation of new barriers, and ensuring that new and modified structures do not impede fish passage. Some visual examples have been provided in the attached submission.

The OPW has worked closely with Inland Fisheries Ireland to protect fisheries and to remove several barriers to fish passage as part of our work on flood relief schemes and arterial drainage maintenance. These include for the rivers Tolka, Dodder and Nore, the Fergus, the Tullamore, the Suir at Clonmel, and the Brosna at Mullingar, among others. More recently, on the Templemore flood relief scheme, extensive consultation with IFI at detailed design stage allowed for a fish-friendly design, which included 40 measures designed to enhance the aquatic environment.

As the committee will be aware, as part of the development of the flood relief scheme for Bandon, which provides protection to some 390 properties, a rock ramp-type fish pass was provided at the historic weir in the main river channel.

The fish pass was designed by specialist designers on behalf of OPW, in consultation with IFI. Representatives of IFI inspected the fish pass during its construction. Surveys, especially on numbers of salmon fry, indicate notable improvements, showing that the fish pass is having beneficial effects in allowing better passage of fish upstream of the weir in Bandon. The OPW continues to monitor the performance of the fish pass.

The OPW has a statutory duty to maintain arterial drainage schemes completed under the Arterial Drainage Act 1945. These schemes provide drainage outfall for 260,000 ha of agricultural lands and a level of protection from flooding to urban areas, including some 21,000 properties and critical infrastructure. The annual arterial drainage maintenance works programme is carried out in accordance with relevant legislation, through a range of environmental assessments, including strategic environmental assessments, appropriate assessments and ecological assessments, supported by widespread stakeholder consultation.

Arterial drainage maintenance works are carried out in line with OPW environmental guidelines, developed in conjunction with IFI, which set out procedures for environmentally friendly maintenance. The guidance also includes steps for the enhancement of channels, such as the creation of gravel beds, pools, irregular features and flow depths, and deflectors where opportunity exists.

The OPW works closely with IFI on the environmental drainage maintenance research programme, which builds on existing collaboration, good practice and guidance materials developed by IFI and the OPW over the course of many years. This close relationship between both organisations has been formalised by means of the latest shared service agreement. The agreement aims to enable the OPW to maximise environmental gain during arterial drainage maintenance practices and to implement enhancement and restoration on channels identified by IFI. An aim of the shared service agreement is for OPW and IFI to work jointly towards meeting the objectives of the water framework directive and meeting actions set out in Ireland’s national biodiversity action plan. The OPW looks forward to continuing this proactive engagement with IFI. I thank the Chairman and committee members for their time and would welcome any questions they may have.


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