Water charges: everything you need to know (and a bit more)

Who will pay, when will that be and will there be refunds?

Sorry, how many times do I need to water the grass before I get charged for water?

Sorry, how many times do I need to water the grass before I get charged for water?

 

So what is going on with water?

When the Government was being formed last year the issue of water was parked in the form of a cross-party Oireachtas committee. That committee has now issued a set of recommendations that will form the basis of how water charges will, or more to the point, will not be introduced. The issue virtually collapsed the Government last week as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, on whose support the Government relies, clashed on some fundamental issues.

What, no water charges?

Technically, yes, but actually, no. A total of 92 per cent of households will pay nothing. The agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is that only a tiny fraction of the population will pay extra for water. They are households who are seen as water wasters and use more than 1.7 times the average amount.

And what is the average use?

Well this provided a huge sticking point between the two big parties at committee but ultimately they came up with a plan assisted by the Commission for Energy Regulation. The regulator said the average use per household was 345 litres per day, based on an average household of 2.6 people.

So households that use more than 589 litres of water a day (remember, that’s 1.7 times the average amount; stay with me) will be the ones who will be targeted for extra charges or levies. The CER reckons there are 70,000 households in total in this bracket. There will be allowances for bigger families and those in exceptional circumstances and who might pass the 589l figure earlier.

So how many times a day can I flush my toilet?

In reality, you would have to really try very hard to breach the limit, even for a larger family. Here are some rough estimations of water usage: A bath will use 80 litres. In comparison, a five-minute shower will use 35 litres. However, a power shower uses huge amounts of water, as much as 100 litres in five minutes.

Each dishwasher load will use 20 litres of water, while a washing machine will use about 50 litres each time it is used (less for highly efficient modern machines). If you brush your teeth leaving the tap on you could be using six litres every minute. Each bucket of water used for mopping or washing the car will use about 10 litres.

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Oireachtas committee report

When it comes to toilets it depends if you have a modern, dual-flush model or an old one. The former uses about six litres, the latter about 10.

Washing a car over 15 minutes using a hose would use more than 100 litres of water, while it would be the same for watering the lawn. If you are rich enough to own a 10m x 5m swimming pool with a depth of 1.4 metres, you will use an impressive 70,000 litres every time you fill it. That, you may notice, is ever so slightly over the daily limit.

So what would a household need to do to break the limit?

Each and every day you would need to flush your modern toilet 12 times, put on four loads of washing, take a bath, and four showers (no power shower), use the dishwasher two times, wash your teeth for six minutes, plus use four buckets of water for mopping or washing the car. If your washing machine was a very modern one, that would allow you eight loads.

Obviously, households that water the garden or wash the car with a hose a few times a week will be bringing themselves close to that 1.7 times threshold.

How will wasteful households be sanctioned? Will meters be used?

With difficulty. Fine Gael has pointed out that “existing infrastructure” means water meters and that will be part of the mix in identifying wasters. Now, many houses remain un-metered but it now looks as if there will be an obligation on new builds to install meters.

It is still going to be hard to pinpoint who exactly is wasting. Usually with a utility, the more you use the more you pay. Not so with Irish Water. Instead of paying extra on the bill as you would if you were a heavy electricity user, households will go through a process that could end up with a court hearing.

A previous piece of legislation, the Water Services Act 2007, is going to be amended. This provides that those who are identified as water wasters are issued notices, and go through a process to bring their water usage back to acceptable levels. A period of six months is given to complete this.

If they are not compliant after six months, they will face fines or levies, with the possibility of a District Court prosecution.

It is an Irish solution to an Irish problem, a costly and convoluted way of getting people to be more responsible with their water use. Both the Labour Party and the Green Party voted against the report for this very reason, because they believed this was not an efficient way of dealing with the problem.

Will those who already paid water charges get refunds?

Yes, but the means of repaying has not yet been worked out. Don’t book that weekend away just yet.

And when exactly is the new regime going to be in place?

The report from the Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water has been published and will be considered by the Government who are then expected to bring forward new legislation. So, it will be later this year, but you wouldn’t bet the house on it being before the summer recess.

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