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Farmers demand Lough Erne water level is reduced

Farmers hit by devastating floods have called for the Government to take action to reduce high water levels in Lough Erne.

Severe flooding in Co Fermanagh in November Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Around 300 farmers were affected by severe flooding across Co Fermanagh in the run-up to Christmas and the Ulster Farmers Union says they were extremely fortunate as the situation could have been even worse.

Following the first meeting of the NI Executive’s Flooding Taskforce, it emerged that one farmer was unable to move his milk for three weeks and was forced to tip it down the drain. Another lost a trailer-load of feed, and many were left marooned away from their work.

UFU Co Fermanagh committee chairman Derek Thornton says it is time to look at the lough’s water levels, which are influenced by the flow of water through the ESB hydroelectric station straddling the River Erne at Ballyshannon.

He said he wanted to bring the issue of the water levels in Upper and Lower Lough Erne to attention at ministerial level.

“I think they keep the water backed up to make sure there is a supply of water when there is no rain — that’s my opinion and I think it’s the opinion of most people around here,” he said. “The floods didn’t affect the farms around the lower lake, just the upper lake — fortunately there was no loss of life.

“A lot of water comes into the lough from the Republic of Ireland out of Cavan where Lough Erne starts. It all came down into the Upper Lough and couldn’t get through the bridge at Enniskillen or Portora — it doesn’t take that much to hold it back.

“We’ve had flooding for a day or two before but it stayed for three weeks this time. Four hours more rain and the main road from Enniskillen to Dublin would have been closed. Someone should be able to ring up and say could you let half a foot of water out this week. Thankfully it was at the right time of year when the stock were in off the land. One farmer couldn’t get the milk away from his farm for three weeks and it went down the drain and a lot of people were displaced.”

Mr Thornton said the flooding was a clear warning and action must be taken quickly to ensure nothing similar happens again.

“The key area that must be addressed is the management of the water levels in both Upper and Lower Lough Erne,” he said.

“The existing legislation governing the management of the water levels in these loughs is outdated and must now be reviewed again, particularly given the extreme volatility in the weather which we have experienced over the past few years arising from changing climatic conditions.”

UFU deputy president Harry Sinclair said: “This flood, while impacting farmers directly, had a much wider effect on the community in Fermanagh and the neighbouring counties in the Republic of Ireland. This situation can and must be addressed.”

A DARD spokesperson said: “Rivers Agency will await the outcome of the Task Force report before commenting on this subject.”

ESB said: “The minister has agreed terms of reference for the review and we are now adhering to that review and will make no comment until it is completed.”

Belfast Telegraph