Great turnouts and lively debate were the order of the day, following recent River Suir Community meetings. Over the past two weeks widely advertised evening meetings were held at six riverside locations throughout the River Suir catchment area, to ask local people “What does the River Suir mean to you?”
As we already informed our readers, public meeting were held in both Co. Tipperary and Co. Kilkenny, at the following locations:-
• Newcastle Community Hall, Tuesday 19th.
• Golden Community Hall, Wednesday 20th.
• Thurles, Anner Hotel, Thursday 21st.
• Cahir House Hotel, Tuesday 26th.
• Fethard Community Hall, Wednesday 27th.
• Piltown, Kildalton College, Thursday 28th.
The purpose of these appointed evening meetings were to open up serious discussion on the river Suir, with regard to water quality and other natural water issues, while also exploring possible opportunities that our river and its tributaries could provide in future to local communities.
These meetings were organised by the Local Authority Waters and Communities Office; to coincide with public consultations by the Office of Public Works (OPW) on Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management (CFRAMS). All meeting opened with a presentation by Dr. Fran Igoe who gave the background to a new approach to the management of our natural waters; these included rivers, lakes, groundwater, estuaries, the coast and wetlands.
The importance of the River Suir, from a European perspective, was explained, including why the river was selected as a ‘Special Area of Conservation’ based on the myriad of wildlife being supported. The meetings were opened to the floor and attendees were invited to contribute regarding benefits and issues, from a local perspective. Needless to say, this was a lively affair at all named venues, with discussions ranging from sewage present in the river; excessive vegetation growth; access restrictions for walkers and to the future potential for river based tourism.
Following this discussion there was an overview of the structure and role of the national Waters and Communities Office and the draft River Basin Management Plan, latter which will be available nationally for public consultation from December 2016 to June 2017.
In Cahir the meeting started with a short workshop by Dr Craig Bullock of UCD, who explained his research into the ‘ecosystem services’ provided by Irish rivers. Ecosystem services essentially are the range of benefits we derive from nature. Thus in the context of rivers these include:- Water Supply for Drinking, Farming, Industry, Fishing, Amenities and Tourism. The biology of the river and how it deals with waste and nutrients were also touched upon during his presentation.
A key objective of these meetings was to explore the potential for community involvement in the management of the River Suir catchment area. It was acknowledged at the meetings that great work was being undertaken by groups, e.g. Workman’s Boat Club (Clonmel), Cabragh Wetlands (Thurles), numerous Angling Clubs, River Rescue and varying Tidy Town’s Committees throughout the catchment areas. Latter were viewed as encouraging and demonstrating the real potential for community involvement in initiatives that can make a real difference; while benefiting the river and the local communities associated. Internationally it is recognised that if a river is in a healthier state, same will support more aquatic life and economic development.
Dr Igoe stressed the point that, quote, “What is needed is long term support for the excellent work being carried out by local communities, encouragement for more people to get involved and reconnect with their river, and ultimately for groups to network, working together throughout the broader catchment. This isn’t that radical a concept when you think about it, as historically the river has connected communities from Waterford upstream, probably all the way to Templemore. By taking a broader view of the Suir catchment it is clear that there are real opportunities to improve, not just our water quality and wildlife habitats, but also develop amenity and tourism value, whilst still dealing with recent flooding issues.”
Some might say “That’s all well and good, but we’ve heard this before?” or “Can anything be really done about the issues?” Being realistic, some of the issues raised at the meetings will require major infrastructural investment, such as to the providing of a new or upgraded waste water treatment facilities, and this will not be an easy immediate problem to solve. Other issues can be solved by local effort and some with very minimal cost. However all issues raised at the meetings will be forwarded by the Waters and Communities Office to the relevant Public Authorities and feedback will be given to each community from where these particular issue were highlighted.
Importantly, all issues will be shortly compiled for a ‘River Suir Catchment Submission’ to the draft ‘River Basin Management Plan’, in December 2016. This River Basin Management Plan will outline all recognised issues affecting the status or quality of our natural waters and will develop a programme of measure for dealing with same, over the following four years.
In the interim, local communities and Local Authorities are being urged to consider the flood relief measures being proposed by the OPW CFRAMS as there may also be opportunities for proposed works to be designed / developed in such a way as that there is additional community benefits, e.g. River Walks, Viewing Points or Canoe Access incorporated into future proposed flood management options.
The overall attendance, at the various evening meetings, greatly exceeded all expectations and the discussions continued long after the meetings had formally ended; as people chatted over a cup of tea. Same provided opportunity for networking and the sharing of experiences of the river, between all the different groups represented. There was broad agreement that an annual event should now be organised for the River Suir, showcasing the work carried out by various communities throughout the river catchment. This meeting is now being planned for Ardfinnan on Sunday September 25th 2016.
NOTE: Further River Suir catchment meetings will take place in late August/ early September in Clonmel, Carrick on Suir, Tipperary, Templemore, Ballymacarbry, Portlaw and Waterford. Notification of these dates and their venues will issue closer to the time, so please continue to check www.watersandcommunities.ie; ‘Waters Communities‘ on Facebook; @Lawco7 on Twitter or simply Telephone 076 1065263 for further information.