‘Nobody knows what happened’: Irish lake dispute that won’t go away | Ireland

This is the endangered lake that hasn’t disappeared for six years. Lough Funshinagh in the west of Ireland usually drains through a “swallow hole”, as if someone had unplugged a bath.

But for some unknown reason, nature’s plumbing in this turlough failed, flooding an area thought to be twice the usual size of the lake and threatening homes and livelihoods.

Roscommon County Council last week halted work to artificially drain the lake with a 2.5-mile (4km) pipeline to the nearby River Shannon after campaign group Friends of the Irish Environment warned brought the local authority to the high court on the grounds that no environmental impact assessment had been carried out, in breach of EU rules.

A High Court order stopping flood relief has sparked a bitter row, with some local residents arguing that Irish scientists and political leaders would do their utmost to find a solution if it were houses on the coast of Dublin which were under threat.

Mary Beattie’s house has been surrounded by industrial-size sandbags for over a year and her garden has been partially flooded. “There are even lifelines here,” the 69-year-old said, pointing to her submerged farmland. “Have you ever seen anything like this?”

Beattie said she would move to the top floor of her house if it was flooded.

Mary Beattie’s home in 2018, and in 2022, with her son Padraig. The house has been barricaded, the road has been raised because the neighboring fields remain submerged.
Mary Beattie’s home in 2018, and in 2022, with her son Padraig. The house has been barricaded, the road has been raised because the neighboring fields remain submerged.
Mary Beattie’s neighbors house before the flood in 2016. Photography: Google Maps
Mary Beattie's neighbors' house in 2022. Six years after the flood
The land around the house has been flooded for six years. Photography: Padraig Beattie

With flood relief now at a standstill, local residents say it has been abandoned and far from protected, the environment has been damaged by the inaction. The rare Bewick’s and Whooper swans, curlews and unusual wildlife supported by the seasonal waters have all disappeared.

“The law is the winner here, nobody else,” said Geraldine Murray, who lives in the area. She remembered dozens of swans nesting on the banks when she was a child. Now they are gone, along with geese and other wildlife.

Standing on what looks like a grove of mangroves in the waters flooding his farm, Tom Carney said the flooding was “a terrible affliction” for the community.

“The sad thing is nobody knows what happened,” the 70-year-old said. “Whether it was due to climate change or the collapse of underground caverns or an obstruction that got in the way, no one knows.”

Tom Carney remembers the chasm and whirlpool draining the lake

Funshinagh is one of the largest turloughs in Ireland and is officially considered “of major ecological importance” a priority 1 habitat under EU law. It is served by both surface water during heavy rains and groundwater through springs gushing from the karst limestone rock.

Carney said he remembers when the lake was slowly drying up, disappearing into the sinkhole and making a whirlwind-like sound as the last water disappeared underground.

According to International Association of Hydrogeologists (pdf), the water level rose 2 meters above normal levels in 2016, causing extensive and prolonged flooding. “Based on the slowness of the flow, it was calculated that it would take 600 days or two years for the flood waters to flow out and that would assume there were no more floods,” said the IAH in a 2018 report.

Farmers in the area don’t want the lake to drain completely, but fear the situation for habitat and their homes will get worse if, after a relatively dry winter, they face another winter deluge. next. Septic tanks will flood, sending effluent into what has been recognized as some of the cleanest lake water in the country, they said.

Farmer Bernadette Mee recounts how flooding killed decades-old native ash and larch trees
Bernadette Mee, a farmer, recounts how flooding killed decades-old native ash and larch trees. Photography: Lisa O’Carroll

“We farmers just want it to regulate itself, we just want to protect the environment like we used to do with respect and dignity for all natural wildlife,” Bernadette Mee said, pointing to acres of ash trees. decades old and native larch trees killed. by the flooding of his farm.

She, like Murray and Carney, says the irony is that the habitat EU legislation is meant to protect has been destroyed.

At this time of year, the air above the shoreline should be filled with bird feathers and chirping, Mee said. “The birds you hear are behind you, they are not on the lake, there are no swans, no geese on the lake, there is nothing. The reed beds are gone, they have no cover.

Mee said that before 2016 the water was hard to see, such was the extent of the rushes and reedbeds. The vegetation supported the swans by providing shelter and because they could feed on the tadpoles and nutrients on the bottom of the lake.

Roscommon County Council said it had ‘made every effort to try and find a mechanism to provide urgent emergency relief which would ensure families could stay at home’, but added it had been challenged at every step by Friends of the Irish Environment. .

Eoin Brady, a lawyer for the campaign group, said the council had twice ‘sought to approve a project to take a very large volume of water’ from a protected habitat without carrying out environmental assessments, such as the requires the law.

“Had Roscommon County Council proceeded as it originally planned in undertaking a statutory scheme, it is entirely possible that flood relief measures would already be in place in Lough Funshinagh. There is an important lesson for public authorities to draw from the outcome of these legal proceedings: to deal with the impacts of climate change, the longest way is generally the shortest way home,” he said. he declares.


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