Comments on the proposed Floods Wall Scheme and Tidal Barrier for Cork

Updated: Feb 9

As shown by the facts of the last centuries by several scientific institutes it’s obvious that climate change is happening: sea level rise, more and heavier storms, more run off from rivers, and in this 2018 summer heavy droughts due to less rainfall. All these things are happening and countries and cities must be prepared to the effects of climate change. In the Netherlands we have built up some experience with these “threats” to the country mainly as a result of flooding and others catastrophes (i.c. the 1953 flooding in the south western part of the Netherlands). For cities like Cork, at the coastline of the Atlantic and on the border of a main river, these threats are serious to deal with. So it’s not a question if or why the city must be protected against flooding but more how do we create the best and most viable solution for the city, its inhabitants and workers in the area. From that perspective I will give some comments to the different proposals for Cork City based the documents, a visit to Cork (February 2018) and my (Dutch) experience with flood protection.

Since 2009 it was in the Netherlands political decided not only to re-act if a flooding is (likely to be) occurring but to be prepared to the effects of climate change in the next century. So this is the first comment on the Cork proposals presented last year: create common understanding on the necessity of flood protection based on facts and standard: what do you want to protect against flooding and to what extend?

Since that period it is also decided that flood protection is not a “stand alone” subject. Always urban, rural development, nature conservation etc. must be considered also in the planning of flood protection programming. Although this is the main issue at least the effects of new flood protection structures must be reconsidered. In programmes like Room for the river and Coastal defenses we have built up several experiences with combining functions with flood protection like parking, dune conservation and city development. The second comment is therefore: combine solutions (as much as possible) and discuss the programme with people of different background: citizens, engineers, farmers, architects etc.

As effects of climate change may occur on the long term it also essential to formulate goals on the longer term: what is the most likely scenario of climate change and flooding in the Cork situation, to what level the city and its inhabitants must be protected against flooding? These are in general questions to be answered by the government (OPW) but it’s essential to communicate intensely on these topics with all the people in Cork and the area of the river Lee. So the comment on that is to create common sense and understanding on facts and policies.

In the Dutch situation it is obliged (by law) that for each flood protection problem (i.c. a flood defense structure not facing the legal standard) several options for reconstruction must be reconsidered in different stages: an overview of technical and feasible options in the phase of exploration, a planning of the most viable option including permitting and decision making as second phase and finally the construction phase. Costs and benefits should be included in every step and at the end of each step a review (prepared by people not involved in the project) is more or less the standard (not obligatory) before (political) decision-making. The main budget is, in the Dutch practice, the flood protection budget from the government and the regional water authority (water board) but if other functions are included also the availability of budget from other parties should be reconsidered. Comments on the Cork-options: develop the planning phase by phase (stepwise) including the costs of every option and the available budgets. Add knowledge and value to the project by reviews. The last point is also important from the point of risk reduction in the reconstruction phase of the project.

In the Dutch practice “not one solution to flood protections fits all”. We need different solutions for the coast line and the inland waterway and rivers. We have chosen for dunes along the coast (also for nature conservation) and our main harbors and cities are protected with (tidal) barriers due to the fact that shipping is also important to continue as much as possible. Now we are also facing the opposite face of climate change: less rainfall, more droughts and possibly lack of fresh water. It might be interesting, also in the Netherlands, to look at these tidal barriers from the point of fresh water conservation in droughty periods. So the (last) comment is: have a serious look (different options, different coasts) at the tidal barrier options for Cork city also from other points of view in the climate change debate: preparedness to droughts.

Erik Kraaij, programme manager for the Dutch national Flood Protection Programme (2014-2018)