OPINION: Laois must make changes now to avert climate change and floods

Lynda Kiernan

Reporter:

Lynda Kiernan

OPINION: Laois must make changes now to avert climate change and floods

Recent storms like Hurricane Heléne and Storm Ali marked the start of another possible winter of extreme weather to hit Laois and Ireland.

Storm Ali caused two tragic deaths, electricity outages across Laois, and forcing the closure of the Ploughing Championships after stands were ripped asunder by high winds. Video of damage here

Climate change is happening and will worsen in our lifetimes.

There are changes that can be made in Laois, to protect our lives, homes, jobs and futures.

We can firstly turn to the Slieve Blooms and our bogs to help us.

The mountains are the source of the Owenass, Barrow and Whitehorse rivers, all of which flooded the county within hours of heavy rain in November.

Much of thems are planted with rapid growing Sitka Spruce trees, a crop for semi-state forestry company Coillte. Studies show that Sitkas deplete soil giving less soakage, causing more rainwater and soil to run into rivers, flowing into Mountrath, Mountmellick and Portarlington.

If more native trees were planted and allowed mature in our mountains it would restore soil and hold more rainwater, not to mention carbon dioxide. We must stop seeing trees as money makers and instead as our protectors from global warming.

Give incentives to landowners who plant native trees, increasing as the trees age.

Endall industrial bogcutting and shore up bog drains. Active bogs not only hold rainwater like a massive sponge, preventing flooding, but they also store vast quantities of carbon dioxide.

To comply with EU laws Bord na Móna will stop harvesting peat by 2030 but it should be done now. Yes jobs would be lost in the short term, but the long term cost to our descendents is more important.

Rules prevent most cleaning of rivers except in August and September to protect river life, even though the rivers were so low with drought they could easily have been cleaned earlier in summer. Many rivers in Laois filled with silt, vegetation and debris, adding to floods. This must be reviewed.

A radical measure would be to demolish developments in flood plains. During the Celtic tiger and before it, hundreds of houses in Laois were permitted to be built close to rivers.

Rivers will by nature overflow, nature is in charge and that water must go somewhere.

The unprecedented flood that hit Mountmellick in November 2017 can not have been helped by the two large housing estates built near the Owenass river since the previous biggest flood in 1990. Both estates flooded badly with water flowing into the main street.

Homeowners who paid big money in good faith for their new homes can neither get flood insurance again nor sell them.

Replacement homes should be built elsewhere for these residents, paid either by insurance or the local authority who gave planning permission. Then remove those developments and every bit of concrete on them, allowing natural floodplains to again do their job.

Farmers must play their part, by reducing the number of drains on their land, and their stock. There are about 74,000 dairy and beef cows in Laois, almost one per person. Reducing stock would ease fodder pressures, and people should be paying twice as much for beef as a luxury rare treat.

A new study shows that feeding 2percent of dry seaweed to cows can cut methane by up to 99 percent. Cows emit up to to 500 litres of methane each, which is 25 times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over a 100-year time span.

Cycling was a leading form transport of the past in Laois and it must be again to safeguard our future.

Connected cycle tracks between and in every town in the county would not only help us do our bit to cut carbon emissions, but people would be fitter, healthier and happier.

All these measures would also help make Laois a more attractive destination to live in and visit.