Case study 'the annual allowance is extremely generous'

 

THE KILMALEY Inagh Group Water Co-operative Society Ltd in Co Clare is one of the longest- established group water schemes in the country.

When it was founded it was one of the biggest private group schemes in Europe. It has been up and running since the late 1970s and touches on seven parishes, encompassing some 250 kilometres of water mains.

The scheme was set up by a group of local farmers who wanted a constant water supply for their farms. More than 1,900 households are now on the scheme, the source for which is a 52-acre lake on top of a local mountain in west Clare.

Members get a free allowance of 150,000 litres. If more than that amount is used, they must pay. Meter charges were introduced in 1988. Costs work out at a charge of 90 cent per cubic metre of water used after the 150,000 allowance.

Generally, an average-sized household should not go over its allowance. There is a subsidy of €140 a household a year. A committee is elected every year and the scheme has several full-time employees.

The cold weather of recent years affected the scheme and repair works cost in the region of €20,000. The demand also increased from the regular 1,500 cubic metres a day to more than 3,300 cubic metres, as some households left their taps running.

The scheme manager Noel Carmody says some uncertainty remains over what will happen once universal household charges or water metering are brought in.

“Some schemes will be taken over and become part of the public schemes perhaps,” Carmody says. “As far as I am aware, the council won’t take over a scheme unless it looks to be taken over, but it remains to be seen how it will all work out.”

Michael Halpin and his wife Babs (above) and their family, who live just outside Ennis, have been part of the scheme since they moved there in the early 1980s.

“I had never been in a group scheme when I lived in the town. At the start there were a lot of teething troubles.

“It is so big and we live in an elevated area. Normally the pipe is going along the roadside and running downhill but with ours that isn’t the case in parts of it.

“The pressure at the outset would be poor enough and subject to some breaks. The quality was always reasonably good from the lake.

“At times, though, at the start, depending on the weather conditions, you could have a bit of discolouring.

“We have a very safe supply. Where the lake is situated there wouldn’t be any farms close to the lake or any intensive agriculture that could cause any problems like pollution or contamination. Two years ago we had a new plant put in. It’s a modern treatment plant and we had one before the town had it.

“The annual allowance is extremely generous compared to other countries,” Halpin continues. “Most other countries you pay for every litre you use. We never really went over the allowance, although farmers would and they would be paying for extra.

“We are already metered. What will happen in the future is we will have to be self-sufficient, in the sense we will have to collect block grants for the service ourselves. We have a meeting every month and we have a full-time manager and two full-time maintenance people also.

“Everything is done in co-operation with the local council and there are always ongoing works. Practically all the piping has been replaced in the past number of years. It is like a new scheme now. The only time people complain is when it goes wrong, naturally enough. It’s that old saying of not missing the water until the well runs dry.

“I remember back in the early days you’d have a big crowd at the monthly meetings. That was an indication that there were teething problems and issues with the supply. The average meeting now is not very well attended, which is a good sign.”