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Higher waves, sea levels and tide cycles will leave us vulnerable

March 29th, 2018 10:00 PM

By Emma Connolly

Elvis kreicbergs' drone photo of Skibbereen when it flooded last January.

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LARGE tracts of West Cork will remain vulnerable to flooding despite the Office of Public Works spending over €80m on robust defence schemes in the region.

According to maps prepared by them as part of their Lee Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management Study (CFRAMS), parts of Clonakilty, Inchydoney, Rosscarbery, Innishannon and Skibbereen remain suceptible to ‘a 1/200 in any year’ incident of flooding.

Dr Kieran Hickey of UCC’s Geography department, said increased and extended periods of rain will continue to be a locally felt consequence of climatic change. 

And while the OPW schemes will provide comfort to towns, the simple fact is that water will have to go somewhere. 

The Bandon defences costing €25.5m are set for completion in 2019 as well as the €33m scheme in Skibbereen. Contracts have just been signed for Clonakilty’s scheme costing €22m.

Skibbereen businessman Cathal O’Donovan explained: ‘Anticipated climate change has initiated the design of our scheme which is intended to cope with a 1/200 year coastal flooding  event  and a 1/100 year fluvial flash flooding event. The progress in the Flood Relief Scheme to date is solid and on schedule for completion in 2019.  From where we had no protection, we will now have protection into the future.’ 

However he acknowledged that defence systems in some parts of the country won’t provide sufficient protection in the future on the basis of climate information. 

Dr Hickey said that without describing ‘an end of world scenario’, climate change was happening in the region at an alarmingly fast rate, albeit in an insidious way.

The author of two widely read books on climate change said: ‘We are not going to see a leap overnight but trends are changing gradually in the wrong direction.

‘What is the big challenge is rising sea levels – they are so small every year that they can’t be seen but it’s happening and estimated at 1 metre this century which doesn’t sound like a lot, but consider it was only 13-15cm last century.’

On top of this he pointed to higher tide cycles as a result of the rising sea levels which will have major implications for flooding, as well as sand movement and erosion.

And a third element of concern to compound the problem of flooding involves greater storm surges and bigger waves.

‘So combined, it means the south west will be very vulnerable to flooding as a result of climate change,’ he suggested.

‘Look at Storm Ophelia, this is already happening to an extent – it won’t be an overnight leap and will happen gradually; but gradually in the wrong direction.’ 

The implications of this are obviously significant, he said, particularly when it comes to planning. 

‘Defences are part of the OPW remit, but the fact is that only so much can be done with their available amount of money. There will be major implications for planning but the entire coast can’t be protected and unfortunately exposed West Cork farmlands – to both flooding and erosion – won’t be a priority when it comes to engineering works.’

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