Home water meters may cost three times €500m estimate


THE COST of installing domestic water meters could be up to three times initial estimates of €500 million, the Government has been told.

As the Cabinet meets today to discuss household and water charges, Engineers Ireland has said the cost of domestic meters is likely to be between two and three times the Department of the Environment’s initial estimates.

Engineers Ireland also concluded many years of revenue collected through water metering would be required just to pay for the meters themselves.

In a submission to consultants on the issue appointed by the Department of the Environment, the engineers emphasised a pressing need to replace much of the State’s crumbling, Victorian, spun iron water mains network – particularly in the Dublin region.

While the engineers’ submission has not been published, sources said it is not against water charges, but is “mindful of the need for a debate on the range of options available”.

Dublin City Council has told The Irish Times an “active debate” was taking place on whether water conservation is best served by installation of domestic water meters or by a flat rate charge which would fund mains rehabilitation.

The council has spent €120 million over the last three years on the first phase of its major Dublin Regional Watermains Rehabilitation project, and has replaced in excess of 200km of pipes.

It acknowledged this spending was not enough to engage fully with the leaking network. It said it needs to renew up to 2 per cent of its network every year, or 160km. Tom Leahy, executive manager with the council’s engineering department, said the issues were being given “very close attention”.

In addition, Michael O’Leary, a former executive manager with Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council and now a consultant, has said water metering “would result in us spending more then €1 billion which we don’t have on something we don’t need”.

Mr O’Leary, who has more than 30 years’ experience in management of the public water systems in the Dublin region, said new meters would do nothing to prevent ongoing deterioration of the State’s crumbling mains network.

In an unsolicited submission to Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, Mr O’Leary said his experience with the introduction of commercial water metering led him to conclude domestic meters would only reduce water demand by 10 per cent at best, and then possibly only in the initial period.

He said a 10 per cent reduction in the State’s water demand could be achieved much more easily by replacing just a quarter of the water mains in the Dublin area.

Taking an average cost of €200,000 to €300,000 per kilometre for mains replacement, depending on the size of main and method of construction, Mr O’Leary said money to be spent on meters could instead be used to replace between 3,000 and 5,000km of pipes.

A spokeswoman for the Minister for the Environment said the aim was to introduce water meters as a conservation measure, while at the same time renewing the mains network.

She said studies across the world had all shown “best practice” was to install water meters as a method of water management. A flat rate charge would pay for the production of water, but would do little to encourage conservation among consumers, she said.

Mr Hogan has previously said he believed water meters were the fairest way of introducing charges. He said it was likely consumers would get a quota and then pay above a certain threshold.