Thursday, 18 April 2013

Questions (41)

Denis Naughten

Question:

41. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the current steps which are being taken to address flood risks within the Shannon basin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17703/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

The River Shannon Catchment Flood Risk Assessment & Management Study is being progressed. This is an in-depth examination of the flood risk in the Shannon catchment and a detailed plan with specific recommendations on measures to manage that risk will be produced by consultants, Jacobs Engineering.

In advance of the detailed analysis which is being carried out under the Shannon CFRAM Study the consultants were requested by the Office of Public Works (OPW) to prioritise a formal review of the operating regulations and procedures of the control structures along the river Shannon with the purpose of identifying potential improvements with respect to flood risk management that could be introduced in the short term.

That report and a non-technical summary of the Report - ‘Understanding Water levels on the River Shannon’ was circulated to all public representatives in the region, last Autumn. In addition, a direct briefing on the report was made by Jacobs Engineering in late 2012 to the Irish Farmers’ Association and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht.

As the Deputy is aware, operational control of water flows and levels on the Shannon is a matter for both the ESB and Waterways Ireland, in the first instance.

The OPW meets regularly with both organisations to review matters relating to the River Shannon. As part of these consultations and in the context of the ongoing work under the Shannon CFRAM study being undertaken for the OPW by Jacobs Engineering, it was agreed to explore the possibility of carrying out a water level monitoring exercise, involving controlled raising and lowering of weir boards at selected locations, subject to favourable hydrological conditions.

For the monitoring exercise to go ahead three criteria have to be satisfied. The first is that the level downstream of Athlone must be sufficiently low not to cause flooding in the callows. The second is that the level on Lough Ree is not below the recently agreed ESB lower target operating level in early summer and the third is that a significant rainfall event is forecast.

At the moment only the first of the above criteria is clearly satisfied. The situation is being monitored closely so that when suitable conditions prevail the exercise can proceed.

In addition to the water level monitoring exercise and following consultations between the OPW, the ESB and Waterways Ireland, the ESB has indicated agreement to a change in the existing control regime, which will remain in place until the publication of the Flood Risk Management Plan for The Shannon Catchment. The change will provide for a trial lowering of the Spring/early Summer target levels in Lough Ree. By increasing the storage capacity in Lough Ree this change will reduce somewhat the risk of summer flooding in the callows.