Thursday, 2 April 2015

Calls for the water levels on Lough Ree to be lowered

With rainfall having reach double the normal amount for June in some parts of the country, farmers along the banks of the River Shannon and in some parts of the county will be a fear there will be a price to be paid. 

  Farmers further up the river in counties Galway, and Offaly are affected along with the neighbours on the east back in Westmeath and Longford.

  The chairman of the IFA’s flood management committee Michael Silk has laid the blame firmly at the door of Waterways Ireland.

  “The reality is that on Thursday and Friday the 7th and 8th of June we had consistent rainfall of between 45 and 75 millimetres on each day. That rain was forecasted the previous Sunday. 

  “There was no provision made whatsoever to move water from Lough Ree through the gates in Athlone, down to Meelick and through the gates there. What we had been left with was a situation where the gates weren’t lifted in Meelick until the Friday of the 8th of June, when we had a very serious flood between both Meelick and Athlone. We were left with devastating consequences for the farmers in between, and there is no question of that,” he told the Roscommon People. 

  “The levels on Lough Ree would have risen significantly. The levels on the Lake are being maintained at a level that is too high and there no gates being opened between Lough Ree and Meelick until it was too late. This meant that the land was covered with water and people who had suckler cows and cattle out on their lands, had to take them back indoors. They would have to be fed fodder that would have been needed for next winter.

  “It is a very critical situation for farmers in counties Roscommon, Westmeath, Galway and Offaly and even in parts of Longford,” he said.  

  Waterways Ireland were quick to react stating that they would monitor water levels on the Shannon on a daily basis and would have taken whatever steps necessary to deal with the situation, and that the levels on the River Shannon were lower than the average summer levels on the previous Wednesday, twenty four hours before the rainfall. 

  However Michael Silk described the statement as: ‘ a load of rubbish.’ “Waterways Ireland would not tell us the truth for a start and the real truth is that on the Friday morning after nearly thirty hours of consistent rain, there was only one third of the gates open in Meelick and all of the boats were still on the weir and that is the harsh reality. I visited the gates that morning. Even a fool that would have heard the forecast that was predicted on a Sunday, would have moved the water out of Lough Ree, and would have had all the gates open on a Sunday evening both in Athlone and Meelick and arranged the storage capacity in Lough Ree for all of the rain that was going to come down. 

  “That didn’t happen and farmers had to suffer the consequences of the ineptness of these agencies. This is happening almost on an annual basis now and there is no desire on Waterways Ireland’s part to lower flood levels on Lough Ree. 

  “The levels on the lake were raised in the 1970s by .61 of a metre in the summer, which is exactly two feet of water. On the morning of the heavy rainfall on Thursday, not alone were the levels being maintained at two feet higher, but eight inches higher again. 

  “We were now presented with a situation where we had had 32 inches of water in Lough Ree. Until we get back to a situation where we can have the levels lowered on the lake, back to what we consider a normal level, which would provide a store for some of the rainfall, then there is little future along that stretch of river. There is twenty-seven miles of river between Athlone and Meelick and it is a nightmare situation for the farmers in Roscommon and something needs to be done.” 

 On Monday morning last, Michael Silk invited public representatives from counties Roscommon, Longford, Westmeath, Offaly and Galway to the Weir in Athlone to examine current water levels.  

  Meanwhile on Monday afternoon, Waterways Ireland issued the following statement to the Roscommon People.

  ‘Waterways Ireland’s statutory remit is to manage, maintain, restore and develop a schedule of waterways, principally for recreational purposes. 

  Waterways Ireland control water at five weirs on the Shannon. These weirs are so constructed as to retain water at a level adequate for navigation but they are overtopped in times of flood.  Within strict limits, the controls at the weirs are opened or closed as necessary. When the water level rises in the river above that necessary for navigation purposes, Waterways Ireland opens the sluices and at Meelick removes weir-boards to facilitate throughput of water.  When all the sluices are open and weir boards removed and the water is flowing freely over the tops of the weirs, Waterways Ireland has no further control on water levels. 

   Waterways Ireland monitors water levels on a daily basis (sometimes several times a day) along the Shannon Navigation. Waterways Ireland also constantly monitors the Met Éireann three and five day forecasts in relation to precipitation levels.

  A recently published Report ‘Understanding Water Levels on the River Shannon’, undertaken by independent consultants as part of the ongoing Catchment Flood Relief and Management (CFRAM) project in relation to the Shannon robustly examined Waterways Ireland’s operating procedures in relation to Summer flood events over the past number of years. The Report could find no fault with Waterways Ireland’s operating procedures.’

Issue dated: 29 June 2012
© Roscommon People