The River Clare is located in Counties Mayo and Galway, and is the largest tributary of the Corrib-Mask catchment. It is 93 km long and has a catchment area of 1,036km2. The River Clare flows across the north Galway plain though the towns of Tuam and Claregalway before joining the eastern side of lower Lough Corrib. Its principal tributaries are the River Sinking, the River Nanny, the River Grange and the River Abbert. A large section of its middle reaches was formerly a turlough, which, at 6.5 square kilometres, used to be Ireland’s largest. Much of the River Clare is included in the Lough Corrib Special Area of Conservation.
Arterial drainage, by trying to rush water as fast as possible to the bottom of this catchment, caused the flooding problems experienced at Claregalway during November 2009. Further drainage works, as proposed, are not the solution to this problem.
The Clare River catchment was devastated by arterial drainage works in the 1950s and 1960s and the scars of this programme and ongoing OPW drainage maintenance works remain visible today. There have also been impacts from instream development works which focused entirely on salmonids – often to the detriment of other ecological interests.
Although drainage works undertaken in the 19th century may have improved access for salmon to the catchment, the modern drainage scheme devastated the ecology of the catchment. Riparian wildlife, including the largest turlough and wetland systems in Ireland, was destroyed by this scheme. A glance at the OSI mapviewer – which allows a comparison of 6″ historic maps on the with 2005 aerial photography – gives a clear indication of the extent of physical diversity and natural heritage that was lost as a result of the Corrib-Clare Arterial drainage scheme. This scheme was the largest scheme of its type ever undertaken in Ireland and, after perhaps the Shannon and Lee hydroelectric schemes, had the most significant ecological impact on a Ireland’s natural river heritage.
Lost Clonkeen Lough
The photos below show the former bed of the River Clare at Corofin, Co Galway. The river here has been severely modified by arterial drainage schemes which were undertaken in the 1850’s and 1950’s and the river now runs through a deep rock cut (also shown). Formerly there was a large permanent lake and extensive turlough system upstream of Corofin, called Clonkeen Lough.
Parts of the river below Corofin used to run underground prior to the drainage works. However, historical mapping indicates the presence of numerous eel weirs on the temporary channels, showing that migratory fish could still use the catchment. The shear number of eel weirs in particular shown on the historical mapping indicates the former importance of this catchment as habitat for the European eel. Today the River Clare is a highly modified channelized river and the only reminder of the extensive turlough systems that used to exist here are the townland names (e.g. Turloughmore, Turloughmartin, Lough George etc.).
New flood scheme proposal
Arterial drainage works on the middle and upper parts of this catchment really just transferred the flooding problem downstream – away from grant supported agricultural lands to urban areas at the lower end of the catchment. The extensive flooding of the town of Claregalway in November 2009 is a key example of this. The current €7.1 million OPW proposal for further drainage works seems to be very short-sighted. Restoring flood plains and wetlands and the ecological services that they formerly provided would surely be a more modern and sustainable approach for flood management in this catchment.
However, the OPW are currently planning to implement a new arterial drainage scheme on this river in response to the flooding of November 2009. This is despite that fact that most of the flooding problems in this catchment have actually resulted from the counter-productive effects of arterial drainage. By attempting to get water to drain as quickly as possible from the middle and upper reaches of this catchment, the OPW have simply transferred the problem of flooding – from grant supported agricultural lands – downstream to urban areas such as Claregalway in the lower reaches of the river.
The economic cost of the damages consequent to the flood of November 2009 was estimated to be €12.1 million. However, the majority of these damages were for the Claregalway region (€11.8m alone). It is clear that we should be looking at more sustainable flood schemes and aim to slow the rate at which water moves down this catchment during flood events, rather than increasing it. We should be prioritising the protection of urban areas over grant supported agricultural lands.
It is also noted that 300% of normal rainfall fell during November 2009 and the River Clare could never be made large enough to convey all the water which would fall in the catchment during flood events of this magnitude. Arterial drainage, by trying to rush water as fast as possible to the bottom of this catchment, caused the flooding problems experienced at Claregalway during November 2009. Further drainage works, as proposed, are not the solution to this problem.
There are alternatives to costly approach of draining lands, dredging rivers, and trying to rush the water to the sea as quick as possible. We need to be looking to back-to-nature flood schemes.
For further information please see the following:-
- OPW River Clare Flooding Report
- Growing awareness of need for more imaginative schemes
- The River Clare
The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management have said that “Projects working with nature to reduce flood risk are needed ” and the Environment Agency has said that there should be “a pond in every field in the areas where flood prevention is needed“. This would of course bring benefits to both wildlife and flood prevention, but would impact on agricultural lands. However, as George Monbiot would argue, farmers are being subsidised to do the opposite of what is really required to manage floods. Subsidies given to farmers should be used for projects that benefit society and not just the farmers themselves. We need to be looking at back-to-nature flood protection schemes for North Galway.