Twenty ways Ireland can deal with flooding while preserving nature

January 13th 2016

While communities are still reeling from this winters devastating flooding environmental groups have offered some solutions.

Today the Environmental Pillar published twenty recommendations to protect communities and their natural environment from future deluges.

Key to the proposals are the use of soft measures such as developing wetlands, native forestry and rewetting bogs to slow down water in river catchments.

The Environmental Pillar also proposes ending poor planning by making public representatives and officials take responsibility for their decisions, developing river catchment agencies and adopting long-term plans which account for the impact of climate change.

Here they are:

1. A Planning Bill to prevent zoning of flood plains. 

An immediate step that must be taken is to ensure that no development takes place on natural flood plains. This needs to be included in a new Planning Bill to prevent zoning of development land in flood plain areas.

2. Create a publicly available register of wetland drainage and in filling 

It is important that a national register of wetland drainage is maintained and that plans to drain or fill in land should be made available before works happen. This would give a better picture of what is happening nationally and give communities the opportunity to oppose works that could create flooding problems.

3. Flood plains currently zoned for development must be immediately de-zoned

An obvious measure to prevent further damage and cost

4. Local Authority CEOs and County Councillors should be held responsible for the damage done by poor planning 

Public representatives and council officials should be held to account for all decisions that allowed development in flood risk areas.

5. Naming and shaming 

When poor planning and decision-making has led to damaged homes and livelihoods then the people responsible should be identified publicly.

6. Precautionary Principle

The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government should issue a National Guideline for planning authorities, which states that local and planning authorities shall adopt the ‘precautionary principle’ or approach in respect of flooding when considering planning applications.

7. Bring long-term thinking to flood planning

All flood planning needs to take account for the impact of climate change over the next 100 years. We need to develop more comprehensive measures capable of responding to the increased frequency of heavy rainfall events that are predicted.

8. Flood prevention, rather than flood relief should be the priority

Other countries such as the Netherlands and UK have embarked on major setback and wetland restoration for more natural, cost effective flood management. The same schemes also improve water quality and ecology.  It is most urgent that we review our policy, change our laws and carry out individual action to make us more flood-resilient.

9. Local Resilience Plans

Communities should carry out a Risk Audit for potential serious events i.e. flood, loss of electricity for over three days, fuel shortage, closure of ports and airport and serious epidemics and prepare local Resilience Plans.

10. River catchment management (RCM) agencies

The most effective flood relief strategy will require the integration of infrastructure and built environment agencies and planning structures into a comprehensive set of river catchment management (RCM) agencies, as opposed to the currently-existing reversed order of priorities. Decisions taken in isolation in various sectors are unsustainable, a holistic approach is needed.

11. Stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere

If climate change is left unchecked what are now freak weather events will ultimately become ‘normal’. Measures need to be employed to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Our national emissions targets should be reviewed and more ambitious targets set.

12. Use soft engineering

Sustainable Flood Management techniques like soft engineeringare an absolute necessity. Wetlands have an essential role to play in helping us deal with these events. Hard engineering solutions are not always the answer. The movement of water through a catchment needs to be slowed down so that rivers are not overloaded by rapid drainage. We should be maintaining wetlands rather than allowing water to run out of them faster. Arterial drainage of watercourses is counterproductive.

13. Ecosystem restoration

Numerous marshes and other wetlands that were illegally filled in need to be returned to wetland so that we have a greater buffer against future heavy rain events. These natural defences are cheaper and more effective than the current hap hazard strategy of building more flood defences which just cause flooding elsewhere.  Ecosystem restoration is in line with the EU Water Framework Directive.

14. A national wetlands survey

A national wetlands survey and review is needed to examine the role and management of wetlands in Ireland in the face of climate change. Between 2000 and 2006 there was a reduction by 10% of wetland habitats in Co. Monaghan and this was a conservative estimate (Heritage Council funded report 2006).

15. Incentives for wetland creation 

Incentives for wetland creation and an audit of the role of inland wetlands and coastal habitats in helping communities to adapt to climate change and severe weather events are urgently required.

16. Increased indigenous tree-cover

Planting native trees, particularly in the Shannon and Lee basins, has a role to play in lessening the impact in future years. Individual trees, hedges and woodlands significantly reduce sediment run off and forests systems can hold and recycle more water than grazing or croplands. Trees, particularly native hardwoods, absorb water by draining it from the surface via their root systems. Research results from the Flood Risk Management Research Consortium, from the Pontbren experiment in Wales, reveal that ‘introducing optimally placed tree shelter belts to the current land use (upland sheep farming) is to reduce peak flow by 29%; introducing full woodland cover would reduce flows by 50%.’ (FRMRC Research Report UR 16. Project Web: floodrisk.org.uk)

17. Stop the removal of scrub and hedgerows

The removal of hedgerows and “scrubland” must be halted, and those that have been removed reinstated. In recent years massive amounts of scrub has been cleared as an effort by farmers to protect farm subsidies. This needs to be reversed as, like trees, scrub can hold water better.

18. Clear-felling of tree-cover must be phased out in favour of continuous cover practices

This practice leads to erosion, the creation by heavy machinery of impermeable pans, and the resulting rapid run off of storm waters.  Drainage design in forestry needs re-thinking to slow down run off of surface water and sediments.  Sediment not only fills rivers and streams, causing damage to ecosystems, it also impairs the natural groundwater drainage systems.

19. Move drinking water and sewage plants away from flood risk areas

The location of both our drinking and waste water treatment plants needs to be reassessed and newer technologies that would allow for safer (higher ground) sites should be considered.

20. Educate communities and officials about the potential impacts in each area

Education and awareness about flooding and the importance of wetlands and the impact of climate change is needed in all sectors especially Local Authority planning staff.

Click here to view the Environmental Pillar document
About the Author

Ian Carey

Ian is the editor of the Green News. He works as Communications Manger with the Irish Environmental Network.