Friday, 24 August 2018

The Bandon: A river under heavy construction

The Bandon: A river under heavy constructionby Shamim Malekmian

For Simon Toussifar, the Bandon River is a link back to the past. The west Cork artery river, a significant source of Atlantic salmon, was a childhood fishing haunt for the keen angler.
It has been some time, however, that Toussifar and other recreational fishing folk have been able to seek out a catch of salmon. The river has hit a roadblock, or as Toussifar calls it a building site in the river itself.

Referring to operations being carried out on the river as part of a multi-million euro flood relief scheme, Toussifar says that he has become “highly alarmed” at the amount of suspended solid pollution running downstream from the works. He says that contractors have also used the river as a “roadway for heavy machinery” and has witnessed track machines working in the middle of the river to remove the river bed.

The plan is designed to protect the town of Bandon from the menace of flooding that has plagued the town for decades. On November 19th, 2009, for example, the river’s bank bust after heavy rainfall, causing more than €20 million worth of damage to the town. The incident prompted a public outcry and demand for an adequate flood relief scheme. The Office of Public Works (OPW) along with Cork County Council began to develop such a plan in 2010.

In 2012, the OPW exhibited plans for the scheme at Bandon Town Hall, outlining the need for defence walls, a new footbridge and, importantly, dredging activities.
By 2016, the €16 million project was ready for execution. Its environmental impact, however, remains a matter of dispute.

The Dredge report
Some experts argue that the scheme’s 3.6km dredging operation breach environmental safety standards and pose a significant threat to the river’s key species, namely the freshwater pearl mussel, eel and Lamprey that live alongside the river’s well-known salmon population.
According to ecologist Dr William O’Connor, the Bandon will never regain its lamprey stock partly due to the timing of dredging. Lamprey spawning season is in May, the same time that the OPW dredges the river.

According to the project’s Appropriate Assessment (AA) Screening Report, the period between May and September is deliberately chosen to carry out in-river works in order to avoid interfering with the reproduction of salmonids.

“There’s a lot more than to a river than catching salmon in it,” warns Dr O’Connor, however, whose company Ecofact was engaged on the project to undertake a fish stock assessment.
“Impacts on Annex II listed lampreys were not considered in any effective way,” he says, with the resulting dredging works in May 2017 and May 2018 coming during the “peak of the lamprey spawning season”.

“Lamprey habitats are not going to redevelop there again,” Dr O’Connor says. All three Irish lamprey species are noted to be of high conservation value under the EU’s Habitat Directive, under which it is mandatory to ensure the conservation of rare, threatened or endemic animals and plants.

In a statement, the OPW said that the scheme had been subjected to significant ecological assessments with appropriate mitigation measures designed to ensure the livelihood of the river’s fish species.

As part of that environmental study, it says, consultants “fully considered the impacts of the scheme” and the necessary mitigations measures are outlined and specified in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) completed in 2012 and the Environmental Impact Statement Addendum, completed in 2015.

“Appropriate mitigation measures were specified in the EIS and are being implemented in the construction phase which includes limiting the in-river works to the May-September period in order to mitigate impacts on fish species.”

The project’s documents reveal that some dredging and non-dredging options were assessed to tackle the issue of flooding. However, the OPW has cited the opted dredging option as “favoured by the public”.

Over-designed solution
In general, Dr O’Connor describes the flood relief scheme as the “most excessive” and “most over-designed solution” that has ever emerged to deal with flooding in the area.
He says that current rock armouring installed all around that stretch of river to stabilise its banks is “obliterating” the Cork stream.

“I can’t see the river really going to recover from the amount of rock armouring that they’re putting along the entire section,” he said.

The large fish passage – reportedly the largest of its kind in Europe – currently under construction to allow for the natural migration of fish at the Bandon Weir is another concern for the ecologist.
Dr O’Connor says that the main problem is that it is too large for Bandon’s small weir. This is leading to the entrapment of fish species, he warns.

“It’s hard to understand on what planet a fish pass of that size is a good idea to provide fish passage on such a minor weir,” Dr O’Connor says.

“It is going to be 137 metres long, and it’s almost 13 metres wide, and this is to provide mitigation for a small weir that is about two metres high. This totally dwarfs the weir that it is supposedly trying to mitigate.”

Weir removal option
Dr O’Connor says the weir should have instead been demolished so that fish migration could have been naturally restored. Earlier this year, Paddy O’Sullivan of Bandon Charitable Resources offered to remove the weir, but the OPW rejected the offer, it said, to avoid impeding the project.
“Ownership of the weir was not clear, and such an approach was not favoured at that time as the scheme was significantly underway.

“To amend the scheme in such way would have been a significant change to the confirmed scheme, necessitating further environmental assessment which would have delayed the project considerably,” the OPW said. According to the OPW, the benefits of removing the weir would have been scant for flood relief, although they did not comment on its impact on fish migration. “Removal of the weir would not have provided significant benefits in terms of flood alleviation.”

According to the scheme’s Flood Risk Management Options documents, however, the removal of the Weir would have provided a significant reduction in upstream flood levels.
In assessing the possibility of removing the weir, the OPW concluded in its report that, as it is used for hydroelectric power generation and is listed as a cultural heritage site, the benefit of removing it “would be outweighed by the benefit of retaining it”.

The OPW also says that the current fish pass has also helped to remove a block to the upstream passage of lamprey.  Nevertheless, a proposed design for the fish pass hasn’t been made available to the public for an independent assessment.

The OPW says it hopes to make the information available online. “For information purposes, the scheme’s documents will be uploaded to the project’s website again in the coming days.”
The OPW, says that they are aware that the scheme’s short-term impacts can be significant, adding, however, that they can be managed in the long haul.

For the likes of Toussifar, however, that is little consolation. “It was heart-breaking to watch what was once a thriving ecosystem that held healthy populations of fish, birds, otters, wild plants and tree life all being butchered,” he says.

“The works will finish here in a few weeks and what they will leave behind is a river that has been drained of all life.”

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Riprap (Rock Armouring) is a highly environmentally destructive way of combating flooding

Pictured below are photos of Riprap (Rock Armouring) along the Bandon River and information gathered from the Department of Homeland Security website that explains the issues encountered on rivers that use Riprap as a solution. 

Put simply, riprap is the layering of rocks (angular rocks generally being preferred,) along a threatened area to counteract the constant wearing away of land brought about by repetitive hydrologic activity. Whenever waves or moving waters meet unprotected soil, there will always be ero- sion. Covering exposed soil with rock helps protect it from being washed away, securing an embankment against further erosion. 

Problems arise because the effects of riprap do not stop at the point of installation. When positioned along a section of riverbank, for example, riprap has a number of negative impacts on the surrounding environ- ment. Riprap tends to increase the speed of water flow along an armored reach, as the water has no points of friction to come up against and nothing to slow it down. This additional strength of flow presents issues further downstream from a riprap protected bank, as water is deflected off the riprap and directed at other points of riverbank. The increased strength and speed of the water only increases erosion suffered at these new locations, the typical result of which is the necessity of installing additional armoring, which merely moves the problem further down the stream. 

Riprap impedes the natural functions of a riverbank or shoreline, as it interrupts the establishment of the riparian zone, or the point of interface between land and flowing water. A properly functioning riparian zone is important for a number of reasons; it can reduce stream energy and minimize erosion; filter pollutants from surface runoff via biofiltration; trap and hold sediments and woody debris, which assists in replenishing soils and actually rebuilding banks and shorelines; and it provides habitat diversity and an important source of aquatic nutrients. 

Not to mention, a naturally functioning riparian zone simply looks better. Another aspect of riprap is its considerable effect on wildlife, specifically fish that live in and utilize streams and rivers where eroding banks have undergone armoring. While erosion can cause potential problems for
fish, especially in high-silt loca- tions, the installation of riprap leads to other, more significant, issues. When riprap is the primary or only form of riverbank stabilization measure, the end result is typically a uniform, smooth channel, with no complexity. 

This means that there are no areas of vegetation either in or overhanging the water, leaving fish at risk from predation. In ad- dition, a lack of riverbank diversity denies fish a place to seek refuge during periods of high-water, which often results in their being washed out of a fast moving system during flooding.

Riprap causes other, albeit less sig- nificant, problems as well. In areas of low vegetation, when exposed to direct sunlight, the rocks that com- prise riprap can reflect light into the water, which increases water temperatures to an unhealthy degree for fish. 

Riprap also tends to suffer from structural integrity issues during and after high-water events. Losing rocks to high water or fast flows, a riprap structure will soon begin to fail in its purpose. Once the soil that the riprap is designed to protect is exposed, the damage continues as before its installation. This possibility requires constant monitoring and maintenance, which ultimately becomes expensive and problematic.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Southern Star Letter to Editor: OPW response on Bandon River fish pass ‘an insult’

Sunday, 12th August, 2018

SIR – I wish to respond to the comments made by the OPW in their response within your front page article titled ‘Bandon River's fish pass is described as butchery by local environmentalist.’
The OPW's response which read ‘the proposal to remove the weir could have delayed the completion of the flood relief scheme by years’ is just an insult to anyone’s intelligence. 
How could removing the weir take longer than removing half of it and then laboriously and extensively constructing a monstrous fish pass that better resembles a whale pass instead? 
I think the penny has dropped in many people’s minds about this whole project and questions need to be asked as to why the OPW decided to take the most expensive and environmentally-destructive route in rolling out the flood scheme.
The river bed below Bandon is completely dead and devoid of all natural life. It has been noted by environmentalists that the rock armouring going all the way down the river stretch is completely over the top and severe, which will make any type of environmental recovery almost impossible. 
It’s almost like no EIS was ever done here as there have been no concessions to environmental protection, and no effective mitigation measures.
How did it all come to this? Will the OPW ever change their ways?

Simon Toussifar
Recreational Fly Fisherman,