Irish Water warns high level of usage ‘not sustainable’ long-term

No immediate risk of shortages as dry spell increases chance of pollution in lakes and rivers

 Irish Water warned that if the summer and autumn continued to be dry and hot, levels of treated water could come under pressure later in the year. Photograph: iStock

Irish Water warned that if the summer and autumn continued to be dry and hot, levels of treated water could come under pressure later in the year. Photograph: iStock

 

Warm weather and a lack of rain are putting Irish water supplies under pressure with experts warning of potential for shortages later in the year and an increased threat of pollution in lakes and rivers.

With temperatures as high as 30 degrees forecast in the coming days, and after weeks of unusually dry weather, water levels in lakes and rivers across the State are falling with concerns around shortages growing. Irish Water is calling on customers to use water responsibly but says it does not foresee water shortages emerging in the coming days.

Irish Water said storage levels in raw water reservoirs at Roundwood and Pollaphuca were “reasonable” and that it did not foresee shortages but that if the summer and autumn continued to be dry and hot, levels of treated water could come under pressure later in the year.

“In the recent dry spells we have seen a significant increase of the order of 20-30 million litres per day which reaches and occasionally exceeds our maximum production capacity,” said the utility. “This is not sustainable on a long term (more than a few weeks) basis without some management action.”

Meanwhile, Dr Simon Harrison, a lecturer in fresh water ecology from University College Cork has warned that sewage will pose the biggest threat during the dry weather. “We suffer from point source discharge or sewage outlets in Ireland, ” Dr Harrison told The Irish Times. “Most of this pollution is from agriculture and results in phosphorus and nitrogen leaking from farmlands. This warm weather will throw a spotlight on pollution in Ireland and these hot dry periods will result in poor water quality because of the sewage.”

Dr Harrison says a lack of funding for Irish Water repairs has resulted in “rudimentary sewage facilities” across Irish towns and villages which are discharging sewage into streams. “During periods of heavy rainfall you don’t really notice this pollution but when you get dry periods you notice it. He said increases in dairy farming was also adding to nutrient enrichment levels in water and exacerbating water quality in Ireland.

A statement from Irish Water confirmed that its drought management group was meeting regularly to assess water supplies, particularly in Athlone, Mullingar, Kilkenny, parts of Offaly and Donegal and in the greater Dublin area. The Dublin region is using about 600 million litres of water a day which is close to the maximum level of water that can be treated each day.

It called on customers to repair leaks, spend less time in the shower, not to let taps run and to avoid using unnecessary water such as garden hosing. It added that water supply challenges in the greater Dublin area and Midlands, caused by growth in housing and employment, would ultimately be resolved through the extraction of water through a 170km pipeline from the Shannon at Parteen, Co Tipperary. The project is expected to cost €1.3 billion with a deadline of 2025.

Irish Water said increased tourism on the Aran Islands during the summer months could also exacerbate water storage levels and that three new storage tanks on Inis Oírr and two new tanks on Inis Meáin are currently being constructed.