State’s new water utility is ready to invest for jobs and to protect this essential resource
Problem of leaks and ageing infrastructure must be tackled
Poulaphouca reservoir near Dublin. Our investment in water over the last 130 years has been inadequate. Photograph: David Sleator
This week Irish Water, the State’s new water utility, takes a historic step in its evolution.
The start of a nationwide metering campaign is the first major tangible output from the utility since the Government announced its intention to transform the water system barely 15 months ago.
As well as representing a significant capital stimulus to the economy and creating 1,600 jobs for the 3½-year duration of the programme, the scheme will also empower consumers to manage their water use in a manner that has not been possible for domestic users up to now.
Metering has been proven to lead to a reduction in water consumption. It is also instrumental in helping customers understand the value of water.
Our villages, towns and cities have developed around our natural water sources, and the health and prosperity of these communities have been shaped by the development of these services over the past 130 years.
We can trace such development from the Vartry scheme developed in the 1800s, which helped eradicate cholera in the centre of Dublin, to the Cork city and lower harbour scheme built in the 1970s, which facilitated the development of the pharma industry.
However, our investment in water services over the past 130 years has simply been inadequate. Local authorities have done some amazing work in a very restricted financial environment but unless we make some radical changes in the way we finance the sector our problems will multiply.
As it stands we have an ageing infrastructure, a growing population that needs additional water services and a need for spare capacity in our major urban areas. Allied to this the predicted effects of climate change mean supply will be less reliable. Hence the need to establish Irish Water.
The necessary changes will require significant investment, which will see the reintroduction of domestic water charges, with the first bills coming in early 2015. The nature and structure of these charges will be determined by the Commission for Energy Regulation, which has the responsibility to ensure a fair price for a top- class and reliable service.
Clean water at the turn of a tap has never been free of charge and the taxpayer has always contributed to the subvention provided by government.
However, reducing the subvention and replacing it with a direct water charge will place a focus on conservation in recognition of water’s value as a resource.
Everyone has a part to play in conservation and this, in tandem with investment in repairing mains, will result in much less wastage. The Government will also be introducing a policy of assisting home owners to repair leaks to pipes on their properties – referred to as a “first fix policy”. However possibly the most proactive part of our plan to assist people conserve water is the Irish Water domestic metering programme.