Fifth of drinking water supplies ‘vulnerable to failure’

Number of people threatened by poor water supplies doubles due to issues at Leixlip plant

 Leixlip water treatment plant. The number of people threatened by poor water supplies   has doubled largely due to difficulties at the Leixlip plant. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

Leixlip water treatment plant. The number of people threatened by poor water supplies has doubled largely due to difficulties at the Leixlip plant. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

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A total of 52 treatment plants supplying drinking water to 1.1 million people – over a fifth of the Republic’s population – “are vulnerable to failure”, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has warned.

“Increasing uncertainty in Irish Water’s planning and delivery of critical improvements to water treatment plants is making supplies vulnerable to failure, posing a risk to the health of a large portion of the population,” it concludes in its report on public supplies for 2019 published on Tuesday.

The number of people threatened by poor water supplies – and on the EPA remedial action list – has doubled largely due to difficulties at Leixlip water treatment plant, following two boil water notices over an extended period last year that affected more than 650,000 people.

Infrastructure defects

The plant, which is operated by Fingal County Council under an agreement with Irish Water, is the second biggest in the country and supplies a large area of Dublin, Meath and north Kildare with water from the river Liffey. The main problem was supplies were not being fully disinfected due to infrastructure defects.

“While progress is being made, the multiple failures at the Leixlip water treatment plant last year highlight the serious lack of resilience in our water supplies,” EPA director general Laura Burke said.

The report, nonetheless, shows overall water quality in public supplies remains high with 99.9 per cent compliance with bacterial limits and 99.6 per cent compliance with chemical limits.

While the number of supplies on the remedial action list at the end of 2019 was down from 63 supplies in 2018, the population affected by these supplies has doubled to more than 1.1 million.

The length of time that notices are in place has increased which indicates the measures required to fix the problem “are not straightforward or that the infrastructure may have deteriorated over some time”.

“The supply of safe drinking water is of critical importance for our wellbeing and for social and economic prosperity. Delays in delivering public water improvements puts water quality and the public’s health at risk,” Ms Burke said.

“Growing uncertainty in Irish Water’s planning and delivery of critical improvements to water treatment plants is undermining confidence in the security of supply of safe drinking water.”

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