The Republic is in serious need of a unified rivers authority, Engineers Ireland president Bill Grimson told a flooding forum held at Clyde Road and which was chaired by Engineers Ireland Fellow and broadcaster Pat Kenny. The findings were revealed at the Engineers Week 2016 forum, ‘Engineering Solutions to Flooding’, hosted by Engineers Ireland Fellow and broadcaster Pat Kenny, that focused on the recent challenges in this area and the role advanced engineering skills can play in finding solutions to this ongoing threat. Panellists at the event included Bill Grimson, president of Engineers Ireland, Tony Smyth, chief engineer at the Office of Public Works, and David Porter, CEO of the Rivers Agency in Northern Ireland. Politicians and senior officials from relevant government departments, semi-state bodies and industry were also part of the audience.

Call for unified rivers authority in Republic

Grimson told the forum that we should seriously consider having a unified rivers authority/agency here. It should be based out of the taoiseach's office and be integrated with a proper infrastructural planning office. He also called for a "calibration of expectations" when it comes to dealing with flooding risk and flood defences. Smyth said that the OPW does have a flood defence strategy and has been working on it for years. Apart from areas that are already at risk such as towns like Clonmel and Mallow, he said the OPW was always keen to understand and identify what specific areas were at risk so that it could come up with plans to deal with that risk. "It's about risk management, not elimination," he said. "You can't defend every kilometre of coastline - it's about choice and prioritising." Smyth added that the OPW was in the throes of finalising a detailed nationwide flood risk mapping database which, when ready, would be a significant aid in identifying the flood plains to be avoided for new construction work. he also confirmed that a real time water levels database had been developed. Porter said the main challenge facing engineers was one of communication. It can't be overly technical and must be understood by the public, he emphasised. "You have to explain where the risk is, engage with the community and ensure that they 'get' the whole process of flood risk management. I'm not sure people necessarily get it - especially when you're in the middle of a flood event." He added that a second area of challenge was climate change and its links with flood risk: "We need to identify the areas at risk and engage with people on the dry days." There was also a call at the flooding forum for the introduction of legislation that would oblige the insurance companies to offer cover in cases where the OPW bona fides were accepted. "You can't have a situation whereby certain major Irish towns are uninsurable - it'll only kill off those towns as businesses pull out and locals move away," one attendee noted. Meanwhile, almost half of drivers feel unsafe crossing the country’s bridges after the damage caused by recent flooding, according to an iReach survey carried out for Engineers Ireland. The survey found that 41 per cent of the public believes the main cause of failing to deal with the floods is that we built on flood plains. Almost a third, or 32 per cent, believe it is down to a failure to invest in adequate flood defences while 16 per cent say the government is to blame for mismanaging the emergency response. A mere 11 per cent believe our ageing waterways infrastructure is at fault.

Government should prioritise nationwide road and bridge construction and repair programme

Of the 44 per cent who feel unsafe crossing bridges, 90 per cent of them think the government should prioritise a nationwide road and bridge construction and repair programme as part of its infrastructure planning. Almost three in five, or 58 per cent, believe the best way to ensure cover for people affected by floods is for the state to establish its own insurance fund for high-risk areas. A mere 17 per cent say people should deal with the consequences of floods by themselves, and 16 per cent believe the state should buy at-risk homes and rehouse affected people. The survey sampled 1,000 people nationwide. Caroline Spillane, Engineers Ireland director general, said: “Recent floods have dented public confidence in the safety of our roads and bridges. Although some investment was recently announced to repair them, we need a proper long-term strategy to replace ageing infrastructure. "Some of our bridges, for example, are hundreds of years old. There is overwhelming public support for a nationwide road and bridge construction and repair plan, and these are just some of the issues we are discussing with the key stakeholders we have gathered in this forum today as part of Engineers Week 2016.”aaakid1 Engineers Week 2016, themed ‘Engineering Our Future’ this year, runs until March 5. The week is an annual campaign to inspire the next generation of engineers and excite students about the possibilities a career in engineering can offer. It will involve more than 500 events nationwide with 200 engineering organisations in the private and public sector, and nearly 40,000 participants including primary and post-primary students, parents, teachers and volunteer engineers. See for more.aaakid2