Fermanagh flooding

Communities victims of Executive inactionAfter six weeks of rain in which there were only two dry days, many parts of Fermanagh were under water in the early weeks of December. The county, which is divided diagonally by Upper and Lower Lough Erne, saw many of its tributary rivers burst their banks and flow over fields and roads criss-crossing the countryside. The lough itself rose from about 45.8 metres to 48.2 metres flooding large areas of farmland leaving families living on raised positions cut-off as water engulfed their access roads and made them impassable. My own great-aunt had to be evacuated as her home in Innisroosk was cut off once again making sense of a townland name signifying an island. Many other families suffered this experience as inadequate infrastructure failed in the face of exceptional rainfall.

The Rivers Agency said that the flooding was a one in one thousand year event but local memories would testify against this (official records of local water levels only go back to 1956). The townland name also suggests that in the past water levels often made islands out of areas now considered farmland. Many local people believe that the raising of the lough’s water level in the 1950s in order to aid navigation around the waters (mostly for larger pleasure cruisers) significantly increased the risk of flooding and reduced drainage in areas like Boho which suffer perennial flooding every winter.

The main difficulty is that the rate of spillage (drainage) at the lock at Enniskillen and the two locks in Belleek and Ballyshannon is inadequate to deal with a heavy rain. Every day despite the floodgates being opened fully only two-thirds of the water falling was released. The build up raised the water level elsewhere in the water system. NI Water has made much show of the investment they are putting into water infrastructure but none of it seems to have found its way to deal with the issue of drainage in the Erne water system. Much of the water service has been privatised through “public-private partnerships”. Instead of developing a proper water drainage system, these private companies are only interested in making profits at the expense of communities and the environment.

Another problem is that many houses have been built by greedy property developers in areas which lie on flood plains. A recent report published by DARD and DOE identified 46,000 houses built on flood plains across the north, a significant proportion of which would be located in Fermanagh. A situation not helped by a planning system which pits local councillors and agents against planners in making the case for housing irrespective of its location relative to flood plains.

As ice replaced rain, the county shared the impact of the big freeze and again due to its rurality many roads were left simply untreated. Many older people were left abandoned in the countryside as roads which had previously suffered flooding became skating rinks.

The Executive’s response to this failure has been abysmal. Despite failing to deliver anything tangible, local MLA’s have not been slow to be photographed in boats visiting those suffering or photographed meeting staff in Roads or Rivers Agency. Major investment is urgently needed to develop an integrated public flood prevention infrastructure, not the privatisation and pro-business policies of the Executive.

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