First stage of repair to water mains supplying Drogheda done

Irish Water expects full normal water service to return over the weekend

Aerial footage shows the location of the burst water main at Roughgrange, Donore, Co. Meath which feeds the Staleen water reservoir. It may take until the weekend to repair the damage and restore normal water supplies in the area.

The first stage of repair has been completed to the burst pipeline bringing water to the Drogheda area that left tens of thousands of people in the northeast enduring a sixth day without a water supply.

Irish Water, the State utility responsible for the repair, said that it was sticking to its expected timeline of starting to supply water again to affected households and businesses on Thursday with the full normal service to return over the weekend.

“It may take several days for full service to be restored to all, particularly those on high ground and at the edge of the network,” said the company.

Irish Water, the State utility responsible for the repair, said that it was carefully managing the water entering the main and that the water flow and pressure would be increased gradually to test the pipe. Photograph: Irish Water
Testing is being carried out on the repair to the burst pipeline supplying water to the Drogheda area that has left tens of thousands of people in the north east facing a sixth day without a normal water supply. Photograph: Irish Water

About 70,000 homes and businesses in the northeast were affected after a major water main at Roughgrange near Donore in Co Meath burst last week, shutting off the supply to Staleen Water Treatment Plant that serves Drogheda and towns and villages from Clogherhead to Ashbourne.


Irish Water said on Wednesday night the Staleen plant had been put back in production after commissioned parts were installed to fix the ruptured water main at Roughgrange.

The company said that reservoir levels were continuing to refill slowly following the repair and that it was carefully managing the water entering the main but warned that it could take months and millions of euro to replace a longer part of the pipeline.

Irish Water has said that its preliminary view is that the longer term replacement of the 2.2 kilometres of ageing pipeline that needs replacing will take at least 18 months and up to €3 million to complete.

“A detailed programme for complete replacement will take a number of weeks to finalise and we will need to undertake detailed planning and design work before we can be confident around the exact timeframe for this to happen,” the company said.

Residents in Louth and east Meath continued to source their water from supermarkets and supplies provided from Army tankers, the Civil Defence, fire and other emergency services, and volunteer organisations including the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps with bottled water donated by Coca Cola, a major employer in Drogheda.

Irish Water said that it is not considering recommissioning the Rosehall Water Treatment Plant, which, until its closure 18 months ago, had served as a second plant processing water for the Drogheda area.

This followed a review sought by local independent councillor Kevin Callan who argued, citing former staff of the plant and water experts, that Rosehall could provide a back-up contingency plan if the repair to the pipeline at Roughgrange failed to restore a normal supply.

Irish Water rejected this, saying that the Rosehall reservoir and plant were decommissioned as “the raw water source was prone to running dry during the summer months” and that Staleen had to take over the supply.

The company said that the source water for Rosehall was identified as having “a potential issue” with trihalomethanes, toxins that have been linked to cancers, and the shuttered plant’s treatment processes have also been “deemed to be insufficient.”

Mr Callan expressed concern with Irish Water’s use of language in how it was calling the work to the pipeline at Roughgrange “a patch” when it had previously called it “a replacement” and “a repair.”

“I am highly concerned about that language. It seems to present it so that if this fails, they can say that it was only a patch and will do a bigger repair to it,” he said.

“I spent the entire day going around Drogheda talking to people who have no confidence that what Irish Water is telling them is going to be delivered this weekend.”

A spokeswoman for Irish Water rejected these concerns, saying that the work being carried out was a repair involving “a section of the main that has been patched in.”

“This is a temporary repair while the longer term replacement of the 2.2 kilometres of pipeline is being considered for replacement,” she said.

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy has warned that a similar leak to that in Drogheda could happen elsewhere in the country.

Mr Murphy said his department will examine what exactly happened in this case to see how it can be improved upon in the future. He said he could not rule out a similar leak happening in the future.

While efforts were being made to try to maintain a temporary water supply in the northeast, the Minister said he knows this is not good enough.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he said he will be bringing forward legislation in the autumn on the future funding of Irish Water. There is no "funding certainty" for Irish Water at present and it is competing with other demands on the exchequer such as health and education.

“I think people should have to pay for water and it should then be invested in the infrastructure,” he said.

“Obviously the idea of water charging was for the money to be ring fenced for the improvement of the water service.”

He said: “Before this break happened, I had allocated €24.1m for the water treatment plant in Louth. We are in discussions at the moment of how we are going to find that certainty so that Irish Water can make a five to ten-year plan.”

He acknowledged it is almost unbelievable what happened in terms of the number of people affected and the length of time they have been without water.

But he said there have been decades of underinvestment, or no investment in some parts of the country, in water infrastructure. He said the system was not fit for purpose and was in need of serious repair, which he said was the rationale for setting up Irish Water.

He said Irish Water was competing for funding with other Government departments. During an earlier interview with Newstalk Breakfast, the Minister described the system as "complicated" and "antiquated".

Mr Murphy said he has authorised Irish Water to go ahead with replacing the 2.1km of pipe in Drogheda, but cautioned that with procurement, planning applications and allowances for heritage areas, it will take a number of months to complete.

He pointed out that the section causing the crisis in Drogheda at present was a pipe “twice the width of goal posts” which required two bespoke pieces in case one did not work.

The Minister, who visited the site on Tuesday evening, was confronted by angry householders who said the current situation is unacceptable.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times