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OPW Flood Walls Scheme for Cork

Updated: Feb 9, 2021

It is accepted internationally that climate warming is happening. It is physically observable to everyone in the day-to-day and seasonal weather around the Earth. As part of this, sea levels, both globally and regionally are rising at an accelerating rate which is unprecedent in at least the last 2000 years. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have forecast repeatedly that average sea-levels globally will have risen by over 1m by c.2100; this is probably a conservative projection. At the regional level of Atlantic Europe the rises will be higher than this average. Also, the rates of rise over the next 20-40 years will be fast, with unexpected surprises as the Earth’s ice stores melt.

In this context alone of sea level rise the OPW, together with our government as financial controller of national infrastructural projects, must engage with this reality of sea level rise. For the OPW to continue with its outdated engineered approach, of building flood walls in Cork city and the River Lee, is foolish. The decision now to start the scheme with work at Morrison’s Island appears as arrogant. It flies in the face of the many who actually live in Cork and who do not want the scheme, with all its attendant disruptions for the city and its economy. This is particularly so when very practical and well researched options have been presented to tackle the root of the flooding problem. Researched and cogent arguments against the alternatives presented have not been given by the OPW. Further, international expert opinion in these matters also says the approach is wrong. The OPW is ignoring effectively much of the international research in climate science, hydrology and linked management techniques, especially in relation to the impacts of rising sea levels and its links to the management of rivers. To repeat, building flood walls is not the solution needed, in either the short or long-terms. Rather the focus should be on meeting the climate change driven factors of sea- level rise, occurrence of more intense storms and increased precipitation in this region.

The appropriate approach is:- 1. To build a marine barrier in Cork Harbour to help tackle the fundamental controlling factors to river discharge, of the impacts of storm surge and rising sea levels; 2. To link this construction to an overall integrated river catchment plan for the River Lee as a whole. This would deal with river-based flood alleviation problems throughout the region of the Lee in the long-term. An integrated river catchment approach needs to be put into operation as soon as possible. The OPW’s published river channel-based flood walls and water pumping approach in Cork city is one of the “sticking plaster” and will ultimately fail. The excuse of arguing in the press about comparative costings of walls versus a barrier is disingenuous. National government must engage more actively with these climate-based environmental issues; not only in Cork, but Dublin, the Shannon lowlands and a host of other river centred urban locations throughout the country. Future generations will not thank the current politicians and civil servants, such as those in the OPW, for the effective side-lining on the basis of cost of dealing effectively with these issues now.

Robert Devoy, Professor (Emeritus) in Geography, UCC & Member of the National Sub-committee in Climate Adaptation.



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