‘It’s a horrendous experience’: living with a boil-water notice for 21 months

‘There are times when the water looks like a pint of lager’

 

Living in the village of Cloonfad, in Co Roscommon, has been “a horrendous experience” for residents, who have had to boil their water for the past 21 months.

More than 3,500 people living there, and in the surrounding Ballinlough-Loughglynn area, are subject to the boil-water notice. It is one of the 87 areas on the Environmental Protection Agency’s remedial-action list, where water supplies are in most need of improvement. They are listed in the agency’s Drinking Water Report for Public Water Supplies in 2016.

The local-supply waterworks is on the latest remedial-action list because of inadequate treatment for cryptosporidium, a microscopic parasite that often causes severe gastrointestinal illness.

Cryptosporidium may be a real threat in the water supply if water is not boiled, but locals say the water is so bad and discoloured it is impossible to use for basic requirements such as personal hygiene and washing clothes. They always use bottled water for drinking, as their tap water is discoloured even after boiling.

‘You get into a bath cleaner than when you get out’

Rose Miskell, who lives in Cloonfad with her husband, Sean, said they have been living with the water problem since January 2016, when the boil-water notices were introduced, although they believed the water was unsafe for many months before that. “It’s a horrendous experience. There are times when the water looks like a pint of lager.”

With their daughter away at college, they have to buy up to 5l litres of bottled water a week. The dirt means that kettles have to be replaced every few months. Being able to wash clothes effectively depends on whether the water is clearer, but even at that it is not satisfactory, Mrs Miskell said. “There are times when you get into a bath cleaner than when you get out. That is not an exaggeration.”

She is worried that she will use the water in tea or for washing vegetables, forgetting the health risk. “We in Roscommon are forgotten. I heard a list being read on RTÉ, and we weren’t even mentioned.”

While the daily difficulties for them were considerable, she felt most sorry for households with older people, younger people – especially babies – and those in need of dialysis.

Anne Coleman, who runs Loughglynn Post Office, said that while she was living in the area she was not subject to a boil-water notice. But she does not use tap water, “because you can taste the chlorine, even in tea”. “We are using bottled water all the time. All the people living around me are using bottled water also.”

Local residents had been told the water was fit for human consumption, but in taste terms it was undrinkable, she said.

Sharon Gannon, who lives in Cloonfad with her husband and three sons, said the boil-water notice was incredibly disruptive.

“We started buying water for drinking; we now have to buy it for cooking, it is so bad. Baths are impossible. Having a shower, you wonder should I have a shower at all.”

“I would gladly pay for the water, if this problem was sorted,” she added.

Every time she goes to the supermarket, she buys up to 30 litres of bottled water, she said.

Water is filthy, says local TD

The Independent TD for Roscommon-Galway, Michael Fitzmaurice, said that, boil-water notices aside, water in the area was filthy, especially in Cloonfad. There were two water sources in the area, but one was a well in a boggy area, which brought endless problems.

Irish Water said the problem would be fixed by Christmas, he noted. Because of the hardship caused, he hoped it was right. That time-frame, however, was “way quicker than in the past, when councils were responsible for providing water”, he said.

Irish Water says it is focused on finding the best and most sustainable solution for the people on the Ballinlough-Loughglynn water-supply scheme.

Originally, in January 2016, it proposed installing a containerised ultraviolet disinfection system as an interim measure, to enable the lifting of the boil-water notice in Ballinlough. But a detailed assessment made it evident that, given the time it would take to deliver, install and test the equipment, “it would be more efficient and effective to pursue the permanent and enduring solution to secure safe, reliable and high-quality drinking water for Ballinlough”.

Irish Water determined that the most appropriate solution was to extend the Lough Mask regional water-supply scheme to Ballinlough and the Co Galway village of Williamstown. This €10 million project, which started in April, is being fast-tracked. “This is a 12-month contract, with the works to supply Ballinlough a priority,” a spokeswoman said.