Wednesday, 23 September 2015
Flood Prevention Measures
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, for coming to the Seanad this afternoon. As he will know, the long-range weather forecast has estimated that severe flooding will occur in the west, particularly Galway city, in the coming days. Water heights are estimated to rise to 20 ft., which is much higher than the quay wall at the Spanish Arch in Galway city. Any such high tides will undoubtedly put at risk areas of the city in close proximity to the promenade in Salthill and the Claddagh, and businesses and locals are very concerned about the impact.Any such high tides will undoubtedly put at risk areas of the city that are in close proximity to the promenade in Salthill and the Claddagh. Businesses and locals are very concerned about the impact that this will have. As the Minister of State will recall, on the last occasion high tides caused enormous water damage in Galway. While it is good to see that Galway City Council has indicated that its new aquadam will be deployed at the Spanish Arch in order to alleviate matters, if bad weather accompanies the flooding, that might not be sufficient to prevent the repeat of previous flooding. In light of that, I ask the Minister of State to outline where the national flood risk management programme now stands. I understand that public meetings are taking place to develop a regional plan but there is a great need for these plans to be finalised and the necessary funding be put in place.
I ask the Minister of State, on behalf of the Government, to commit to providing whatever funding would be required for remedial and repair work should the forecasted floods become a reality in Galway and the west.
Would it be possible to get a statement on the current state of affairs in regard to the River Clare in Claregalway? There was severe flooding there, as the Minister of State is aware, almost six years ago, on 21 November. Lawyers have been involved with regard to the progress of the works on the River Clare but there are people there who cannot sell their homes or who cannot get insurance because of the delays with this flood relief work. I ask the Minister of State to update the House on the state of those works.
I thank Senator Naughton for giving me the opportunity to address the Seanad on these matters. The Office of Public Works has arrangements in place with consultants to provide a tidal and storm surge forecasting service for the coast of Ireland to local authorities and to other relevant stakeholders during the autumn and winter period. This service is now operating for the 2015 to 2016 autumn and winter period. This service is provided twice daily and results are presented via a project website, which is password restricted, in the form of a surge, astronomical tide and total water level time series prediction approximately 65 hours in advance. That provides advanced information to local authorities. The service currently provides a low resolution storm surge forecast via website at 15 locations around the national coastline together with a high resolution forecast in Dundalk Bay, Galway Bay, Wexford Harbour, Cork Harbour and the Shannon Estuary. High tide advisory notices are issued from time to time as deemed necessary by the OPW during periods of anticipated combined high tides and storm surge. The OPW is monitoring closely the current surge forecasts for the upcoming high astronomical tides expected between Saturday, 26 September, and Friday, 2 October, and will issue a high tide advisory notice if deemed necessary in the event of anticipated coastal flood risk.
Following the severe weather from 13 December 2013 to 6 January 2014, which caused widespread damage across the southern and western seaboards, the Government decided on 11 February 2014 to make available up to €69.5 million based on estimates provided for repair works by local authorities for a programme of repair and remediation works to be carried out by those local authorities to roads, coastal protection and flood defences and other public infrastructure damaged in those storms. Of the total amount available, up to €19.6 million was made available through the Office of Public Works for the repair of damaged coastal protection and flood defence infrastructure. A further €48.7 million was made available through other Departments for restoration of damaged roads, local authority infrastructure, tourism, amenity and community infrastructure and piers and harbours, including those owned by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, and for other transport infrastructure, including Irish Rail, Shannon Airport and the Irish Coast Guard. A further €1.2 million was made available for repair to OPW's own infrastructure.
The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government wrote to all affected local authorities indicating that, based on the estimates submitted by them to the Department, the amounts being made available to the councils to undertake the necessary repairs works, including the amounts available via the OPW in respect of the cost of repairs to damaged coastal protection and flood defence infrastructure in the country. Local authorities submitted programmes of works to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and other Departments and the OPW indicating how they proposed to spend the allocation made available to them. The OPW has also written to the local authorities indicating that in order to assist them in a practical way and to avoid any potential cash flow issues, it would consider requests for advance funding of up to 80% where a contract for works had been made.
Of the €19.6 million made available via the OPW, approximately €13.7 million was allocated to the local authorities in counties Clare, Galway and Mayo, reflecting the severe damage done in those counties. To date, the local authorities have drawn down over €8.6 million of the full allocation of €19.6 million available to them from the OPW. The allocation is expected to be fully drawn down by the end of 2015. A large number of the projects included in the programme of works submitted to the local authorities are now completed.The Irish coastal protection strategy study has surveyed and assessed the coastal erosion and flood risk along the entire national coastline, and this information is available to all local authorities to enable them to develop appropriate plans and strategies for the sustainable management of the coastline in their counties, including the identification, prioritisation and, subject to the availability of resources, implementation of coastal protection works, both of a structural and non-structural nature. This office has provided funding to Clare, Galway, Louth, Sligo and Wexford for coastal risk management studies of main at-risk areas identified by these counties. It must be emphasised that the management of problems of coastal protection in any particular area is first and foremost a matter for the relevant local authority. With regard to the question of upgrading existing built defences or constructing new defences, this would depend primarily on the council's assessment of the measures that would be appropriate at a particular location. Local authorities must assess the problem in the first instance and, if it is considered that specific measures and works are required, it is open to them to apply for funding to deal with coastal protection works under the Office of Public Works' minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme.
In addition to the storm damage repair funding, which is a one-off measure to reinstate built coastal defences to their pre-storm condition, the OPW operates a capital works programme for the provision of flood defences nationally. In the six years from 2009 to 2014, the OPW has expended more than €250 million of taxpayers' money under the programme on the development and implementation of major flood relief schemes, the catchment flood risk assessment and management programme and the minor flood mitigation and coastal works programmes. In addition to the capital works programme, we also carry out a maintenance programme on all arterial drainage schemes. Included in the major flood relief schemes being advanced are coastal schemes at Skibbereen and Clonakilty.
The OPW is currently undertaking, as the Senator says, the national catchment flood risk assessment and management programme, CFRAM, which is the principal vehicle for implementing the EU floods directive and forms the strategic focus of national flood policy. Engineering consultants have been appointed to implement the programme through six regional studies. Local authorities and other stakeholders are also involved in partnership with the OPW on steering groups and progress groups across the six study areas. This programme, which is vast and is focusing on 300 areas for further assessment, including 90 coastal areas, involves the production of predictive flood risk and hazard mapping for each location, the development of preliminary flood risk management options and the production of flood risk management plans. Under the programme, the draft maps have been produced and are already online for all to see and were the subject of a programme of local public consultation which concluded in April 2015. The flood maps will be finalised following a national consultation scheduled for late 2015. A programme of local public consultation on the preliminary flood risk management options is under way. Further information is available on cfram.ie.
As part of CFRAM, a condition survey of flood defence assets is being undertaken for entry into a flood defence database. I would also make the point that, in the context of capital, this will require significant investment of possibly up to €1 billion over ten years. As a country we currently spend about €42 million a year on flood mitigation measures. In fairness to the last Government and this one, that is a level that has been maintained through difficult years. We now need to see that seriously increase so that we can deliver the CFRAM programme. The programme is making significant progress and we expect by the spring of next year to be rolling out the solutions to those 300 areas, where there are possible solutions.
In terms of the events that may happen in Galway in relation to astronomical tides, we will continue to closely monitor them and we will keep in touch with the Senator on that. I will update the Senator on Claregalway in the next round.
I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. I look forward to the national flood risk management programme continuing its work but we also need to have the long-term plan put in place. As the Minister of State states, this will take a multi-annual approach and continual investment so that we can protect our coastline against events such as those that have happened in the past. Does the Minister of State have an update on the Clare River situation? Many people living in the Claregalway area are at a loss as to when this is going to happen. They are looking for a date with regard to when these works can proceed. Many of them cannot get insurance on their houses or sell their houses at the moment. I would appreciate an update in this House today.
I agree with the Senator that we need a national plan. When CFRAM is concluded, we will for the first time in the history of the State have a national flood mapping exercise. However, more than just mapping the problem, we will also have structural solutions where they exist for each of the problems. That will provide a roadmap for this and future Governments to deliver once and for all on the major infrastructural projects that need to be delivered in relation to flood mitigation.
The Senator also touched on the issue of flood insurance. There are a range of issues related to flooding that fall well outside the remit of the Office of Public Works. Flood forecasting falls within the remit of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Flood insurance and insurance policies are the responsibility of the Department of Finance. I have reconvened the interdepartmental group which brings together all the Departments with responsibility for various elements of what I call the whole of Government approach we need to take and that is due to report to Cabinet early next year. In relation to Claregalway, I sense and share the frustration of residents in Senator Naughton's part of the country. The OPW has committed to fully funding this scheme. That funding is available and our expenditure profile is up to 2017. As the Senator may be aware, under a different European directive, once we carry out an environmental income statement, and follow the other necessary statutory processes, it must be independently reviewed by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. That is where that is at. I hope it does not take much longer. I expect that works can start at the end of this year or early next year. I am very much aware that residents want the work to start as quickly as possible but from an OPW perspective the funding is fully in place and it is in our profiles right up to 2017.