In 2011, the River Poddle burst its banks, flooding homes and businesses in Harold’s Cross, in the south of the city.
It claimed a life, killing nurse and mother Celia de Jesus, 58, who lived in a basement flat on Parnell Road.
The river – which rises in Tallaght, flows through Greenhills and Kimmage and Harold’s Cross before emptying into the Liffey – has not yet been brought under control.
But South Dublin County Council, Dublin City Council, and the Office of Public Works (OPW) have been working together on a plan to tame it further: the Poddle Flood Alleviation Scheme.
A spokesperson for South Dublin County Council said it expects to submit a planning application for the scheme in early January. Not all residents along the river’s course have been pleased to hear that, though.
Members of a Crumlin group say they’ve learnt about the plans too late in the day and haven’t had enough opportunity to weigh in.
They’d prefer to see more of an emphasis on nature-based solutions, says Róisín McAleer of the Crumlin Clean-Up Group. They also worry that the “hard defences”, or wall, planned in Crumlin will push problems further down the river to Harold’s Cross.
A spokesperson for South Dublin County Council, though, says that the project “has been extensively modelled to ensure that won’t happen”. And project manager David Grant said there’s been an effort to use nature-based solutions.
The Poddle Flood Alleviation Scheme is expected to cost €7 million and should protect 800 homes from flooding, said Grant, at a meeting of Dublin City Council’s South East Area Committee in September.
Construction should take 18 to 24 months, Grant said.
Back in 2014, the councils and the OPW looked at three options for stemming the flooding of the Poddle, he said. They settled on an option with “hard defences with sealing manholes, with upstream storage”, he said. (The full designs have yet to be published.)
Hard defences mean walls and embankments – and McAleer of the Crumlin Clean-Up Group says she thinks these don’t work. “There are lots of nature-based solutions that could be explored,” she says.
Elaine McGoff, natural environment officer at An Taisce, says she can’t comment on the plans for the Poddle as they haven’t yet been published.
“But changing the morphology of the river, by means of straightening, concrete embankments and deepening the channel have been demonstrated in other situations to just push the problem downstream,” she says.
Sinead O’Brien of Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) says that urban rivers can be particularly tricky and sometimes it’s necessary to build walls.
But before engaging in engineering works, it’s advisable to fully explore other options that might soak up water naturally, O’Brien says.
That means making more green areas, planting more trees, and discouraging people from paving over their gardens, she says.
“You can’t manage a river alone,” O’Brien says. “Everything that happens in the catchment area affects it.”
A spokesperson for South Dublin County Council says that the walls and embankments they are planning to put in won’t push the problem downstream, because the councils and OPW plan to create “containment areas” to hold the water.
When there is heavy rainfall, the river will overflow into chosen fields and parks, which will soak up some of the water naturally, they said.
That means creating “integrated wetlands” in several places, including Tallaght and Ravensdale Park in Kimmage. Under current plans, some trees will be cut down and the park will get a new wall so it will turn into a wetland when the river rises.
Grant, the project manager, said that the team working on the project had originally intended to have 3.5km of walls, but that’s been cut to 700 metres.
That accounted for “a massive drop in the number of concrete hard defences”, he said. “We also put a focus on … nature-based solutions.”
Some local residents in Crumlin and Kimmage say they don’t want their park turned into an “integrated wetland” – even if it’s only when flooded.
Cutting down trees is counterproductive if you want to soak up water, says McAleer of the Crumlin Clean-Up Group.
The current plan is to remove nine trees and plant 18 new ones in the park, according to a Dublin City Council official response to Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Conroy, at a meeting on Monday night of the South East Area Committee.
McAleer says there’s also a question as to how much of a role rubbish played in the flood in 2011. The Crumlin group spend their time dragging large pieces of debris and rubbish out of the river, McAleer says. “Poor river maintenance exacerbates flooding problems.”
“There is no point spending €7 million on a scheme if they can’t afford river clean-ups of trash screens and clogged-up fly-tipping points,” she says.
At the meeting on Monday, Independents 4 Change Councillor Pat Dunne also said that debris gets caught up in grids, damming up the river when there is heavy rainfall.
Those grills are currently cleaned every Monday and Friday, and when heavy rainfall is predicted, according to a report issued to councillors.
The new plans include improvement works on the river and an emergency maintenance plan, said Grant, at the meeting back in September.
McAleer and her group want to see an environmental impact assessment and biodiversity survey for the project, she says.
Grant, the project manager, said that an impact assessment will be published as part of the upcoming planning application.
Asking the Public
McAleer says that her local environmental group only found out about the plans to turn their park into a floodplain by accident.
Somebody they know happened to watch a webcast of the South East Area Committee meeting back in September, she says. “The community hasn’t been given a voice and that is the biggest issue.”
They want a thorough consultation process with locals, she says. She has now met with Grant but wasn’t satisfied with the outcome of the meeting, she says.
A spokesperson for South Dublin County Council says that it has done six information days and will do a thorough consultation as part of the planning process.
McAleer says that by the time the designs go to An Bord Pleanála, it’s too late for real community consultation. People can make submissions but those are rarely acted upon, she says.
That’s not true, says a spokesperson for South Dublin County Council. An Bord Pleanála can make recommendations for changes to the designs if necessary, they said.
Social Democrats Councillor Tara Deacy says she lives in the area, but did not get an invitation to any information session, or consultation, for the Poddle Flood Alleviation Scheme.
She held an open meeting recently to try to give out information. Some who attended that meeting said it was the first they had heard of the plans, she says.
Poor community consultation leads to feelings of suspicion and distrust, says Deacy, who is also a community-development worker. “We need to consult with people and bring them with us.”
“There is an issue and we need to start talking to communities that are adversely affected,” she says. She plans to hold more consultation meetings in the coming weeks.
A spokesperson for South Dublin County Council says that they have held public-consultation meetings.
Information has been disseminated through the media and online, they said, and a six-week public consultation process will take place once the planning application is submitted, which is expected to be on 9 January.
Wanting to Wait
At the South East Area Committee meeting on Monday, Deacy, the Social Democrats councillor, asked for extra time for a full public community consultation. The committee did not agree to that though.
Fianna Fáil’s Conroy also brought a motion asking the council to agree to pause the Poddle scheme “in order to avoid reduction of the park land, the felling of trees and building a wall through the park”.
Most local area councillors were in favour of the plans proceeding without delay.
Labour Councillor Mary Freehill said she was in favour of community consultation. But “this is about safety. That has to be the bottom line,” she said.
“This issue has gone on for more than eight years with several instances of flooding one which resulted in a fatality,” said Fine Gael Councillor Anne Feeney.
The councils could lose the funding for the scheme if they don’t go ahead with the plans, she said.
[UPDATE: This article was updated on 11 December at 4pm to note Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Conroy’s motion to pause the scheme.]