Irish Water insists plan for €1.3bn pipeline to Dublin on track

Review of Shannon extraction proposal due to objections – but evaluation ready in 2019

Parteen Weir on Lough Derg is part of the Shannon water system. Irish Water plans to build a 170 km long pipe from the Parteen basin on the river Shannon to Dublin. Photograph: The Irish Times

Parteen Weir on Lough Derg is part of the Shannon water system. Irish Water plans to build a 170 km long pipe from the Parteen basin on the river Shannon to Dublin. Photograph: The Irish Times


Irish Water insists the €1.3 billion project to pipe water from the river Shannon to Dublin will not be delayed by a review of the proposal.

The independent evaluation of the project by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) will take a year to complete and was ordered by Minister for Planning Eoghan Murphy. Mr Murphy order the review after opponents of the project highlighted its cost, what they claimed would be likely negative effects on the Shannon system and a failure to address Dublin’s chronic water leakage.

Irish Water says extraction from the Shannon at Parteen, Co Tipperary, is best suited “to meet urgent water needs” of greater Dublin and heavily-populated midland towns along the 170 km pipeline route. Homes and businesses are due to benefit from the new supply by 2025. At present the river Liffey is a critical source of water for the capital, supplying 80 per cent of demand.

The proposed project would mean 330 million litres of water daily extracted from the Shannon south of Lough Derg in one of the largest infrastructure projects ever undertaken by the State. In a brief issued by the CRU, the extent of the review has emerged. It has been asked what elements of the plan will secure supply “in tandem with targeted conservation measures including those to address leaking”.

Those who have opposed the plan claim Dublin has a leakage rate of 57 per cent, which if properly addressed, would make what’s known as Water Supply Project – Eastern and Midlands Region redundant. Moreover, if it proceeds, the city would continue to have an acute leakage problem; worse than any EU capital, they contend.

The terms of reference require the Commission for Regulation of Utilities to examine assumptions made by Irish Water in arriving at the proposal to determine if they are consistent with best engineering practice. It will evaluate if it “appropriately examined all relevant options”, including the potential contribution from groundwater sources, and gave “due and appropriate consideration to key issues raised” under a consultation process.

In addition, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities will assess the utility’s assessment of available water supply, estimates of future domestic and non-domestic demand and allowance “in relation to headroom and peaking factors” to ensure a reliable supply for the region.

Specifically, it has been asked to examine Irish Water’s leakage reduction targets and the extent to which – combined with other conservation measures – they could reasonably address protected water needs for the area within the timeframes required.

Irish Water is still not replacing the State’s pipes at a rate that most developed countries deem sufficient even for maintenance, according to analyst Emma Kennedy, who has represented some campaigners against the project.

Basis of complaints

To maintain a water supply system, about 1 per cent of the pipes should be replaced every year, she added. “At that rate, the entire system is replaced every 100 years.”

“Irish Water claims it has a ‘target’ to replace 1 per cent of the pipes per year, but its actual replacement rate is well below 1 per cent. It confirmed this year it was replacing just 25 to 30km of Dublin’s pipes per year. Dublin has over 9,000km of pipes, so this equates to just 0.3 per cent. At that rate, it will be 300 years before all of Dublin’s pipes are replaced.”

The maintenance rate adopted in different places varies according to the condition of the pipes, she noted. For example, Paris has excellent water pipes (attested to by its 5 per cent leakage rate). So it sometimes replaces at a rate lower than 1 per cent. Switzerland also has a well-maintained system (with leakage of just 15 per cent) but says that 2 per cent of the pipes should be replaced every year just to maintain it.

Significantly, the CRU has been asked if the utility considered climate change “in the context of a resilient supply” – the 2018 heatwave reduced river flow dramatically in the Shannon system.

Irish Water welcomed the review. “This review will provide an independent verification of that process and, we trust, will ensure public confidence in the project,” said a spokeswoman

The utility confirmed there are no major changes to the proposed project since publication of its evaluation last April. “It is envisioned that planning permission will be sought in the second half of 2019, subject to the enactment of abstraction legislation.”

The review will be submitted to the minster in “late 2019”, confirmed a CRU spokesman.