Sunday 27 April 2008

Assessing climate change risks to Irish cities

Dublin is increasingly at risk from flooding from the sea, rivers and sudden rain storms, according to environmental experts at a conference in Dublin last week.

The two-day conference, entitled SAFER (Strategies and Actions for Flood Emergency Risk Management), heard that Dublin City Council had joined a new European initiative to implement measures to deal with flood risk situations.

The five-year, €20 million project is the first of its kind in Ireland.

The keynote speaker at the conference was Duncan Stewart, the architect, environmentalist and television presenter.

‘‘As climate change unfolds, we will be exposed to bigger surges from the sea,” he said.

‘‘Dublin will not be made flood-proof, but our strategy is to make the city more resilient to flooding.”

Each of the seven partners in the so-called Flood Resilient Cities consortium focuses on how best to protect its city from flooding. The main flood risks in the greater Dublin area come from river flooding, coastal flooding, dam break or collapse and fluvial flooding, also known as ‘monster’ rain.

Tom Leahy, deputy city engineer with Dublin City Council, described monster rain as sudden, monsoon-like rainfall that overwhelmed drainage systems.

‘‘This type of rainfall and the frequency of small storms in Dublin are increasing,” he said.

Flood prevention constructions that are under way include a €5.5 million sea-lock and navigation gate at Spencer Dock, a temporary, e0.5 million flood gate - ‘‘which provided full protection for the East Wall area, but did not allow for navigation along the Royal Canal,” according to Leahy - and reinforced walling along the lower region of the River Dodder.

A complete flood defence scheme has been built along the River Tolka. Rijswaterstat, the national agency in the Netherlands responsible for flood management, is the leading partner of Flood Resilient Cities. Another partner is the municipality of Paris, which is addressing the phenomenon of the ‘‘one-in-200 year flood’’.

‘‘This extremely rare event, not too dissimilar to the flooding in England last year, would result in a third of the city of Paris being underwater for three months,” said Leahy.

According to Leahy, a central aspect of Dublin’s flood strategy is to use flood mapping to detect areas at risk.

Other initiatives include an early-warning system that can warn about a flood more than two weeks ahead of the risk.

Leahy said there were increased partnerships with state bodies and other organisations, and coherent flood emergency management services in Dublin city and the rest of the country. ‘‘This would include the defence forces, coast guard, fire brigade and any other required resources of the state,” Leahy said.

The Lord Mayor of Dublin, councillor Paddy Bourke, said: ‘‘Dublin City Council has led the way in addressing flood risk for the area . . .This efficiency was demonstrated clearly on March 10 last when the coastline was at risk, and [it] addressed the risks and concerns of local people in Clontarf and Sandymount.”

Another aspect of the Flood Resilient Cities is to prioritise multi-agency cooperation and the coordination of local communities which can minimise the disruption to people and property.

‘‘After the major floods in Dublin in 2002, I spoke with a number of insurance companies,” Stewart said. ‘‘They said that, after that flooding, no real work was done to prevent the damage happening again in high-risk areas.”

Leahy said the city council would make it mandatory for properties built from 2009 onwards to adhere to regulations that demanded best practice with regard to minimising flood damage.

Sunday Business Post

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