Irish Water’s operation of Leixlip treatment plant criticised by advisory body

The plant’s recent difficulties highlight vulnerability of Dublin’s water supply

The operation of Leixlip Water Treatment Plant which supplies water to 600,000 people in the greater Dublin area, including parts of Kildare and Meath, has been strongly criticised by the Government’s Water Advisory Body. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

The operation of Leixlip Water Treatment Plant which supplies water to 600,000 people in the greater Dublin area, including parts of Kildare and Meath, has been strongly criticised by the Government’s Water Advisory Body. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

 

The operation of Leixlip Water Treatment Plant which supplies water to 600,000 people in the greater Dublin area, including parts of Kildare and Meath, has been strongly criticised by the Government’s Water Advisory Body.

The plant’s recent difficulties show up the vulnerability of Dublin’s water supply, and highlights risks that equally apply to other major supplies around the country, it warns in its latest report. Boil water notices had to be issued in relation to the plant over an extended period last October and November because its quality could not be relied on.

“There has also been a disappointing drop-off in the number of leak repairs completed under the First Fix Scheme from mid-2016,” WAB said – it advises the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government on measures needed to improve accountability in Irish Water and reports on a quarterly basis to an Oireachtas committee on its performance.

“There is a history of under-investment in water and wastewater [treatment] in Ireland and much of the recent focus by Irish Water has been on the provision of high-quality public water,” WAB chairman Paul McGowan accepted.

Despite only three months passing from its first report, however, there has been “significant updates to our 11 key performance indicators”, he added.

“Regrettably, a number of those metrics show a deterioration in performance. Also, the boil water notices arising from two separate incidents at the Leixlip Water Treatment Plant are a concern,” he added.

“The WAB continues to be concerned that Irish Water invest in capacity, resilience and operational practices to deliver continuing improvement in water supply quality and security,” the report states.

Key findings include:

Leakage – “By any measure, Ireland’s leakage rate is unacceptable and needs to be a focus for Irish Water in the future”. The problem is most acute in Dublin.

Remedial action list (water supply) – Issues at the Leixlip plant have exposed the vulnerability of Dublin’s water supply, which is also replicated across the country.

Priority urban area list (wastewater) – The WAB “accepts the EPA’s view that Ireland is not addressing deficiencies in its wastewater treatment infrastructure at a fast enough pace”.

Mains replacement WAB agrees with the Commission for Regulation of Utilities view that Irish Water’s replacement rate needs to be higher given older infrastructure.

Microbiological indicators – Compliance with microbiological standards for drinking water is high.

Boil water notices – Two short-term boil water notices were imposed on the Leixlip water treatment plant. This was “the single largest boil water notice imposed in Ireland, with more than 600,000 consumers affected”.

Customer complaints – Irish Water has demonstrated good performance and is close to its stated aim in its water services strategic plan to resolve (or have outlined steps taken towards resolving) 100 per cent of complaints within five working days.

Mr McGowan added: “It continues to be the WAB’s view that the management and improvement of the drinking and wastewater infrastructure and network requires significant and sustained action, particularly in the areas of leakages, mains repairs and waste water treatment.”

Investment levels need to be maintained, coupled with a strong organisational focus, to enable and deliver a substantial improvement programme. “Increasing public confidence in Irish Water is dependent on visible action in these key areas.”

Progress

Significant progress has been made, particularly where Irish Water have focused resources to protect and promote human health, over the past five years, the utility said.

The report, it added, “recognises the impact of this focus in highlighting the substantial reduction in long term boil water notices; the decrease in drinking water schemes on the EPA’s remedial action list and the vital work done in replacing lead service connections.”

Irish Water has a plan for every area highlighted by the EPA and is progressing as efficiently as possible within the existing statutory, legal and funding constraints, it said.

It recognised leakage “is widespread and a substantial challenge”. Its strategy on leakage “is multifaceted and will save 166 million litres of drinking water daily by 2021”. The Programme is delivered by a dedicated leakage management team and a ring fenced budget of €500 million.

“We are making progress. Together with our local authority partners we have dedicated teams working across the country to fix 1,500 leaks per month,” said managing director Niall Gleeson.

In terms of water saved for the money invested, its Find and Fix and First Free Schemes were the most cost efficient programmes of work, he insisted.