An ecological expert has branded an Office of Public Works river maintenance programme in Co Tipperary “archaic” and “destructive.”
The OPW is currently undertaking arterial drainage maintenance works to tackle blockages along the Nenagh River in Co. Tipperary.
The river rises in the Silvermines and flows near Nenagh town, with a popular 10km walkway on its banks.
Environmentalist Dr Will O’Connor, calls the methods by which the OPW deals with flooding and blockages in rivers “an archaic and discredited practice of river management that dates back to the 1940s.”
Questioning the necessity of it, Dr O’Connor says that these works can cause irreparable damage to the surrounding environment:
“These works will achieve nothing except ecological damage, and perhaps increase flood risk in downstream areas.
"How can destroying a river corridor with an outdated river management approach be considered essential?
Dr O’Connor is not the only one to question the OPW’s handling of the works.
Pádraic Fogarty from the Irish Wildlife Trust says that they are “horrendously damaging to wildlife.”
“The OPW are very heavy-handed in how they go about things and this has led to the destruction of whole river ecosystems.”
Mr Fogarty said the real problem lies within the Arterial Drainage Act of 1945, under which the OPW is mandated to carry these works.
“This was developed to create farmland and not address flooding of homes or towns and so is completely out of date for the 21st century.
"In many instances, like what we've seen on the River Nenagh this week, the works are completely pointless and may only increase the risk of flooding downstream.”
Both Dr O’Connor and Mr Fogarty argue for an improved act, with Mr Fogarty saying: “What we would like to see is a major reform of the Arterial Drainage Act and a requirement on the OPW to address flooding using nature-friendly solutions, only undertake works to protect property rather than farmland and only undertake heavy engineering works as a last resort - not the first.”
This is not the first instance of complaints that the OPW are damaging biodiversity in attempts to tackle flooding.
Communities in Skibbereen, Clonakilty, Fermoy and Cork City have raised objections to how flood relief programmes are being carried out.
Last September, campaign group Save Cork City released a statement in relation to the Lower Lee flood relief scheme.
The statement refers to flood defence schemes which it says fail “to live up to myriad obligations that the OPW, local government, and the Irish Government are required to adhere to according to five separate EU Directives related to habitat protection, to floods and water management, to public information and consultation, as well as environmental considerations and assessments.”
The Cork campaign group also said, “people are rightly, deeply concerned and upset by the actions of the OPW drainage department on the natural and built environment and what this means for the quality of life and economic potential of the country.”
The OPW has said it “has a statutory obligation to maintain drainage works in proper repair and effective condition.”
An OPW spokesperson told the Irish Examiner: “All work was undertaken from the riverbank adjacent to the walkway, no in-stream work was undertaken as part of operations.
"All maintenance work was delivered in accordance with the OPW Environmental Guidance: Drainage Maintenance and Construction Procedures.
“As with any work of this type, minor ground disturbance along the working bank is unavoidable, particularly in areas of poor or saturated ground.
"It should be noted that as per our works methodology, all areas of ground disturbance will be made good.”