Thursday, August 10, 2017

Viewpoint: Our river and climate change

It's actually a coincidence, but the Kilcullen River Festival is taking place on National Water Heritage Day this year, writes Brian Byrne. The day closes out National Heritage Week which runs from 19 August.

So for those who come to Kilcullen for the fun and games of the River Festival, it's an apt time to appreciate how lucky we are to have the Liffey flowing through. And in pretty good condition too.

It looks well, gives us opportunity to walk along it, provides recreation for fishing interests, is the essential basis for the Canoe Club, and offers habitat for wildlife and fish of many species.

It is also the reason Kilcullen is here, because this is the point where it was easier in the first instance to ford the river, and later to build the first bridge. Indeed, in two years' time, we will celebrate the 700th anniversary of that bridge, as substantial a birthday as has any town in Ireland of our size. I'm aware that making a mark on this is already being considered by at least one group in town, and we can all get involved in that later.

But I'm spending a little thought just now on the river and the potential ramifications of climate change. That's a global issue, but in Kilcullen we won't be isolated from its effects.

Arguably we saw a little of that with the unusually prolonged river flood activity in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Thanks to the controlling influence of the ESB, we didn't have any serious flood damage, except to the Bridge Community Nature Trail. And, fortunately, they have taken steps to ensure that any repeat high level of water won't do similar damage.

But it was close enough. And another reason for setting out a plan for the development of the market square, and its environs, which should include flood protection measures for areas of the town which are close to riverbank level.

There is no doubt that we are going to have more extreme weather even in temperate Ireland. In a Status of Ireland's Climate (2012) report we're told that average annual national rainfall has increased by approximately 60mm, or 5pc, between 1981-2010, compared the previous 30-year period. The report also notes that an analysis of long-term river flows from over 40 measurement sites around the country 'shows a tendency for increasing annual mean flows'. So we're not imagining it.

More recently, an EPA report (Nolan, 2015) has modelled the impact of a warming climate on mid-21st century Ireland. Among the conclusions are that 'heavy rainfall events' will increase in winter and autumn seasons. So we're likely to see more, and probably higher water discharges along the Liffey, which is moderated by Poulaphuca dam in Kilcullen's case.

This is all a national problem, though? Yes, it is, but all weather impacts are local to where any one of us is, and as individuals and communities we need to be aware of the local issues. For us, that's Kilcullen.

So what can we do? Well, in the first instance, we need to think about it, as those individuals and communities. We need both to monitor, encourage and help our local authorities to develop and implement measures to deal with what's inevitably coming down the line (or, more accurately, down the river). For those authorities, it's not going to simply be planning for cleanups after an occasional extreme event, they need to be working on long-term measures to minimise the bad effects on our local environment, communities and businesses.

We as a community need to be aware of all this. And to make our own suggestions. One way we can do that now, especially any group or organisation that is adjacent to, or uses the river, is to give feedback to the current Public Consultation on the draft River Basin Management Plans for Ireland 2018-2021. This consultation ends on 31 August, the end of this month. You can get more details from

So, if like everybody who walks across the bridge, you stop occasionally and look down to see what's happening in or on the water, remember a fact. It's not their potential river problem, it is our river, and we all need to play a part in making sure it's OK for those who will be living on in the community through the next half-century.

This may have been a bit heavy compared to the normal stuff on the Diary. But it does bear at least a thought or two from each and every one of us who live or work here.

Meantime, enjoy the River Festival ...