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Inland Waterways Column: After The Deluge

27th April 2011
Inland Waterways Column: After The Deluge

I started off this column in the last issue by talking about the influence of increased rainfall on inland waterways infrastructure and its users. I wasn't expecting a record-breaking deluge, but that's what we got in November.

I live near the old Limerick Navigation, which was bypassed and abandoned when Ardnacrusha was built. Since then, the old route gets the first 10 cubic metres of water per second and Ardnacrusha gets the next 400. If there is anything left over, it's sent down our way.

And during the floods, there was a lot left over. I had always wondered what the water levels on the old navigation were like; these two photos, taken on the Park Canal in Limerick, tell the story.

But while my antiquarian interest was being gratified, people upstream were being flooded out of their homes and businesses. On Lough Derg, owners moved boats; the Killaloe Coast Guard moved boats; marina staff moved boats. And water levels continued to rise.

Waterways Ireland issued regular updates. An embankment slippage closed the Lough Allen Canal; Albert Lock and the Jamestown Canal had to be closed to navigation. And then the Clarendon, Roosky, Athlone and Pollboy locks had to be closed, and it was not possible to pass through Lock 36 between the Shannon and the Grand Canal. Further east, the Grand Canal near Sallins was affected by flood remedial works.

On the Erne, spilling of excess water from Ballyshannon dam meant faster currents in narrow river sections. Many fixed jetties were under water. The consequent damage required closure of 13 jetties on Lower Lough Erne and eight on the Upper Lough. Several navigation markers were damaged, as were pump-out holding tanks at Galloon and Carrybridge.

On Lough Neagh, the canal entrance to the Bann at Toomebridge was heavily silted; dredging had to await improved weather.

Sarsfield Lock in Limerick had to be closed for maintenance (although the Abbey River was impassable anyway). There is no telling how much damage the floods did: the photo shows Derg Marina at Killaloe, where staff had worked valiantly to look after the boats, but theirs was not the only marina to suffer. Incidentally, the planning application for a major development at the site has been withdrawn.

Those who worked to save lives, structures, houses, businesses and, yes, boats during the floods deserve thanks: that includes staff of the Coast Guard, WI and ESB, local authorities and marinas, as well as many boaters and doubtless lots of other people. But some younger folk had fun during the floods: here are kayakers in Limerick at the Curraghgour Falls standing wave.

WI warnings welcome
Some years ago, I was told that Waterways Ireland could not advise boaters not to go boating. That reluctance has certainly been overcome, and rightly so. WI didn't just inform people about the lock closures; it issued warnings throughout the period, progressing from reminders ...
Masters and owners are reminded that, following periods of prolonged rainfall, high flow rates, increased current speeds and water turbulence especially in the vicinity of bridges, weirs, locks, flood gates and other infrastructure will be hazardous to craft and persons on or near the navigation. Air draft at bridges will be reduced as water levels rise also.

... through information ...
Waterways Ireland wishes to advise Masters and Owners that due to the continuing flood conditions that aids to navigation such as buoys, perches and beacons may be totally submerged or have carried away to the extent that the navigable channels are no longer discernable, making all navigation hazardous.

... to sensible advice:
Waterways Ireland advises against navigating at present due to high water levels and the associated difficulties in manoeuvring vessels in the high flow rates. It even issued advice about the icy conditions that succeeded the floods.

What is needed now is a way of getting WI advice to people who are actually on the river: perhaps an electronic equivalent of the British Environment Agency's Strong Stream warning boards.

Planned winter work
The water levels have gone down, the days are lengthening and the work goes on. This listing does not take account of the repairs required after the floods.

On Upper Lough Erne, Waterways Ireland is improving the mooring jetties, slipways and car-parks at Corradillar and Derryadd and the jetties at Naan Island.

On the Shannon, Clarendon Lock at Knockvicar, at the entrance to Lough Key, was to have its lockhouse refurbished. Roosky Bridge was to be closed to boats for maintenance and refurbishment.

A floating 76m boom is being installed above the weir in Athlone to ensure that boats won't be drawn over the weir. A gap has been left for canoeists. There are expected to be no environmental impacts on fish or other wildlife from the installation or operation of the boom. Waterways Ireland has also sought tenders for booms to be installed in Counties Antrim, Galway, Derry, Longford and Roscommon.

Major work is under way at Killaloe on Lough Derg, with 250m of new floating moorings being positioned outside the canal wall above the bridge. The wall itself is being repaired and will have a 450m walkway along it. Flow control gates, with a pedestrian bridge providing access to the walkway, will be installed at the northern end of the canal to protect the wall and banks. To allow the wall to be repaired, boats (including sunken boats) will have to be removed from the canal.

In Dublin, the walls of Grand Canal Dock (Ringsend Basin) are being repaired at Hanover Quay (north side) and Charlotte Quay (south side). That requires dredging of (probably contaminated) material, which can't be sent to landfill in Ireland, underwater cleaning of the walls and repair with 100mm of micro-concrete coating.

The Grand Canal is being dredged between Locks 1 and 5 and the Royal between Locks 1 and 6, paid for by the National Development Plan. Sediment and rubbish will be transported to 'licensed disposal facilities'. This dredging will make it easier for boats to get through Dublin once the Royal Canal is reopened. Whenever that is...

Grand Canal
On the Grand Canal, a leak had to be repaired between Locks 29 (Ballycowan) and 30 (Rahan) and bank repairs were required between Henry Bridge and Ponsonby Bridge (Locks 13 to 14). Down the Barrow Line, the stretch between Locks 21 (Ballyteague) and 22 (Glenaree) was to be dredged.

Shannon-Erne Waterway
On the Shannon-Erne Waterway, Ardrum Lock was closed for maintenance and Corraquill to have a floating landing jetty installed. After the floods, the closure of Ballyconnell and Tirmactiernan Locks was announced.

Shannon Harbour
Waterways Ireland has given notice that, from 1 March 2010, it intends to implement the provisions of SI No 24/1988: Canals Act, 1986 Bye Law (25 ,1 (d)) on all hard-edged moorings in the Shannon Harbour area (between 35th Lock and Griffith Bridge). The effect will be to ban mooring at the same place (or within 500 metres thereof) for more than five days without a permit. The intent is that the improved facilities will be kept free for visiting boats. WI has said that vessels should not double or triple park so that the centre channel can be kept clear. Offending vessels and those without permits will be moved.

Waterways People
The Past President of the IWAI, Brian Cassells, has been awarded an OBE for services to IWAI. A passionate advocate of the restoration of the Ulster Canal, Brian is a historian of the waterways and has recently published By the Shores of Lough Neagh.

Victor Hamill, who was Chairman of the River Bann and Lough Neagh association, died recently in Coleraine. He was Secretary of Bann Rowing Club and was also active in Coleraine Harbour Commissioners, the Lough Neagh Advisory Committee and the RNLI. He died after suffering a heart attack while rowing on the Bann with his brother, Norman.

Dick Fletcher, founder of the Galley cruising restaurants at New Ross, died recently. Having started with the M V Ross, Dick later bought the St Ciaran and the St Brendan, which CIE had used on the Shannon. As well as keeping these historic vessels going, he also provided many people with their first sight of the glorious scenery on the tidal Nore and Barrow.

A rub of the green
In its report on the grounding of an Emerald Star hire-cruiser on Lough Derg in 2006, the Marine Casualty Investigation Board said:

Waterways Ireland should, in consultation with the Maritime Safety Directorate, establish a buoyage system for inland waterways, which is internationally recognized by all users of the waterways both national and foreign.

Waterways Ireland has now announced that the Shannon system will change its starboardhand marks from black to green. The change is to be phased in, with the stretch from Portumna Bridge to Meelick Lock the first to be changed.

No announcement has been made about the implications for the Erne system.

New workboats
Waterways Ireland is seeking tenders for several new workboats. One is for a 12m low-wash steel boat to be used on the Shannon-Erne Waterway. It is to have a single box-cooled diesel-electric hybrid engine, a bowthruster and an onboard generator. It must also have a low wheelhouse, welfare and toilet facilities and a deck crane.

WI also wants a weed cutter/harvester for the canals and two more weed-cutting boats for use on 'various canals and waterways'. These two are to have heated weatherproof cabs, keel cooled engine and hydraulic systems and twin trailing knives.

Published in Afloat February 2010

Published in Brian Goggin Team

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