There are a couple of thousand farmers along the River Shannon and many of them are in a bad way, physically, mentally and financially, because of relentless flooding issues.
That’s the perspective of Mike Silke who chairs the Save Our Shannon organization.
The lack of action to address the relentless flooding problems there, he contended, is the great failure of the state, with a lot of farmers left without fodder. Local residents and farmers have been protesting this summer over lack of action to damage caused by the flooding.
“The situation is that we are flooded since July 10-15,” said Mike, who is in sheep and cattle farming, going into dairying, based on the Co. Galway side of the Co. Offaly border.
“We always had winter flooding but nothing like recently,” he said.
River Shannon flooding
“Around 1999/2000, the floods were bigger, with higher water. There was a massive flood in 1954 which was supposed to be the mother of all floods. It was a very bad year with heavy snowfall at the end of that year.
“The first bad flood I saw was in 1999/2000,” he recalled.
“The water was getting higher and we began to experience summer flooding in the Callows which is located between Athlone and Meelick. There is roughly 27 miles of water between Athlone and Meelick.
“The Callows land encompasses land in counties Westmeath, Roscommon, Offaly and Galway,” the Save Our Shannon chairperson told Agriland.
“The summer flooding started to take over and become a very serious situation. We had lots of corncrakes in the area which was a natural home for them and we put huge effort into protecting them.
“However, we got a very serious flood at the end of May 2002 which literally wiped out the corncrakes and they never recovered after the summer flooding which happened once every two or three years,” said Mike.
“Now this year the land has flooded twice during the summer. We got nothing out of the Callows. When it came to grazing, the cattle didn’t go in until the last week of May/early June. They were flooded on July 10.”
Lack of action
The lack of action on the relentless flooding over the years has led to devastating effects, the Save Our Shannon chairperson said.
“In 2009 we had a serious winter flooding situation when water which was 2ft higher than it was in 1954, (it) went into people’s houses. We were told that was never going to happen again,” he said.
“We got flooding again in late December and early January 2015 and 2016 when the water was even higher. Then there was major flooding again in 2020. The flooding was getting worse and worse, no question about it.
“We were getting winter flooding in the middle of summer and we were faithfully promised that work was going to be done. Flood defenses were put in the major towns but absolutely nothing was done for people in rural areas.”
According to Mike, a major problem was caused by the build-up of siltation in critical areas of the river.
“Nothing has been done with the Shannon but the flooding has been getting more and more serious,” he said.
“In the big flood of 1954, people were relocated out of the floods but now what we are seeing is that the floods have reached their new residences.
“There are about 14,000ac in the stretch of Callows land with about 7,00ac of that land meadowland and 7,000ac grazing. Nobody is doing anything,” he said of the relentless flooding.
“We have asked the minister for agriculture and the minister with responsibility for flooding for action but nothing has been done for us. The most galling thing is that it was said that people in this area could expect nothing else,” Mike said.
Machinery could be put into the river and pinchpoint areas of siltation taken out, said the Save Our Shannon chairperson who called for better maintainance of the river.
“If it was cleaned and the water maintained at a proper level, that would make a massive difference.
“Otherwise we are going to have a complete wipe-out of farming, wildlife, boating and fishing. What we are looking for will cost very little,” Mike contended.
“The levels of water in our three lakes are being maintained at far too high a level.”