THE obvious location for a tidal barrier that could protect all of Cork harbour and the city is Roches Point in east Cork.
That’s the personal view of Duncan Stewart, presenter of Eco Eye on RTÉ One.
Tonight’s episode of the environmental show looks at plans for Cork’s flood defences. Duncan says that Save Cork City’s proposal to have a tidal barrier at Little Island “wouldn’t be able to protect all areas” and adds: “But if it was in Roches Point, you would have a natural protection of Cork because it’s surrounded by higher ground.
“It would at least be good to see a study done of Roches Point to see what the potential of building a barrier there would be. There is a really good solution to be explored there.”
While Cork city is “the most vulnerable city in Ireland when it comes to flooding,” according to Duncan, “the city can at least solve its problem. Dublin is more vulnerable overall because of climate change and rising sea levels.”
Built on a marsh, Cork has been severely hit by floods, in particular the big floods of 2009 and 2014. Eco Eye explores the different options to deal with flooding here.
“Basically, the OPW, with Cork City Council, are concentrating on the city centre, the island area. They’re looking at defending the quay walls against the river flooding. Their main concentration is on fortifying the docks and improving the historic quays area. They want to tackle the issue of the dams when they’re opened. At the moment, the ESB controls the dams. But there needs to be greater focus on how to exercise that control to make sure the city is prioritised during flooding.”
Alternative solutions, as put forward by Save Cork City, comprising architects, engineers and concerned residents, include a suggestion the dams be regulated by the city authority.
“This would mean that when there is a risk of flooding, the dams are opened and closed to protect the city at the right time and to release the water. Improvements can be made in how the two dams are regulated.
“The other issue is how to protect the city without damaging its character. There is a lot of criticism from architects and engineers about the damage that would be caused to the historic aspect of the quays by raising the walls.
“Save Cork City’s focus is to move into the harbour area with barriers against storm surges and marine flooding. That has the advantage that when there’s an exceptionally high sea level that causes the storm surge, they can at least cut off the sea at low tide. It would facilitate the Lee river to drain on down into the lower water.”
Asked which side he agrees with, the OPW and city council or Save Cork City, Duncan says he has tried not to be partial.
“I try and stand back, look at the problems and the different solutions proposed. There’s good and bad in all the options. But it’s important for the people of Cork to consider them and hopefully, make sure the right solutions are made.”
Duncan’s feeling is that “the OPW solution is very short term. That would be my criticism of it. Yes, it is reacting to the type of problems that are there. It’s practical and more cost effective. There’s no doubt about that.
“However, it would do certain damage to the docklands and the quay walls.”
Much of the controversy about the OPW’s flood defence scheme advertised more than a year and a half ago focused on its reliance on raising quay walls, particularly along the historically important areas of the North Mall and Sullivan’s Quay. However, following feedback from concerned parties, it’s reported that demountable barriers will be used along both quays instead of walls. The historic quayside railings and the trees at both locations will be retained. Looking ahead to later in the century, Duncan points out that sea level is going to rise by at least one metre “or possibly even 2.5 metres. That’s where the science is now”.
He adds: “The melt rate of the Antarctic and the Arctic is increasing at a rapid rate. Scientific evidence is clearly showing that we’re going to get a much higher sea level rise in the second half of the century.
“But even before all of that, hurricanes are intensifying in the North Atlantic. They’re called extra tropical hurricanes. We saw one last year, Ophelia, which developed down south in the Azores and developed up along the coast of Ireland and then passed the west coast of Ireland, up to Donegal and then beyond Scotland into Norway. We’re going to get more and more of these extra tropical hurricanes.
“Ireland is the most exposed country for them, according to leading authors (in this field.)”
Duncan says we can’t do anything about that other than reduce our carbon emissions.
“That’s what we have to do globally if we’re going to deal with these big storm surges. We have gas emissions now that are 45% higher than they have been for the last 800,000 years and they’re caused by humans.
“We are sleep-walking over a precipice. In 20 years’ time, it’s going to be extremely serious. It is the young generation that are going to suffer. It’s not on the curriculum and they’re not being informed and shown solutions.”
Extreme weather has cost Ireland €3 billion, half of which was spent on flood damage. The floods of 2009 and 2014 cost Cork city €130 million. On Eco Eye, Duncan speaks to, among others, independent councillor and historian, Kieran McCarthy. He says Corkonians have a love/hate relationship with the river. With the annual Lee Swim and the Cork Harbour Festival, the river is celebrated. But the constant fear of flooding means we are conflicted.”
However, the people of Cork feel a strong sense of ownership when it comes to the river. There were 1,500 written objections to the OPW plans by local residents. While the tidal barrier would cost between €100m to €200m, the walls scheme would cost €140,000. However, Save Cork City estimate that the OPW’s plans could cost €300m.
Duncan says if a very large storm surge enters Cork harbour, all of the work proposed by the OPW “could prove useless”.
He said: “The risks are there. At the same time, I understand the OPW viewpoint in terms of dealing with the problem in a pragmatic and cost effective way. But their view is very short term. Save Cork City looks more at the bigger issues and is grasping the bigger problems.”
Eco Eye is on RTÉ One tonight at 7pm.