50,000 homes and businesses in Mullingar warned to conserve water
Up to last week there had been just a quarter of the average expected rainfall for January
Irish Water’s John O’Donoghue said: “Actions such as turning off the tap while brushing your teeth and shaving can save up to 6 litres of water per minute.” Photograph: PA
Irish Water has asked some 50,000 households and businesses in the Mullingar, Co Westmeath area to conserve water as levels in the Lough Owel reservoir have reached a critically low point.
The utility said water levels at the lake have not returned to normal since last summer’s drought and up to last week there had been just a quarter of the average expected rainfall for January.
As a result the anticipated winter rise in water levels in the lake “has stalled”, the utility said. While wet weather could arrive in the spring, the lake is starting the year at a very low point and there is an ongoing danger of water outages “in the coming summer and autumn”, a spokeswoman said.
Lough Owel is a spring-fed lake and any rain that falls today “will take a number of months to filter through soils and bedrock before it gets to the lake”, she said.
“Even though there may be heavy rain on any given day, only the rain that falls on the lake, which is minimal, will have an immediate effect.”
Met Éireann said Mullingar has so far experienced 37 per cent of its average January rainfall with two days left in the month. The forecaster said there will be rain in the coming days but the total for the month is likely to remain below average.
It said rainfall is below average in around half of the stations around the country and this is due to the first two weeks of the month being dominated by high pressure, and therefore very little rain.
As part of its effort to save water and keep potential restrictions to a minimum, Irish Water has reduced leaks in Co Westmeath by more than one million litres per day, through the First Fix Free Scheme.
Under the scheme, Irish Water will fix a first leak for free where that leak is on private property. Leaks from water pipes on private property are normally the responsibility of the property owner.
The utility has also accelerated its leakage reduction programme for pipes which are its own responsibility. Completed works on the Lough Owel supply include replacing 3.4 kilometres of pipes at Knockdrin, Mullingar; 1.2 kilometres of pipes at Rathconnell, Mullingar; 800 metres of pipe at Tore, Tyrrellspass; and 800 metres of pipe ar Mullingar Road, Tyrrellspass .
The utility has also replaced the watermain at Main Street, Kilbeggan. Rehabilitation of 4.5km of water main at Kilbeggan Racecourse is scheduled to be completed in March. The replacement of old, back yard services in Mullingar is also underway.
Commenting on the situation John O’Donoghue, Irish Water’s head of operations for the East and Midlands Region, said it was “ very important that people are aware of what may be coming down the tracks”.
He said the utility was working in partnership with Westmeath County Council and Waterways Ireland to mitigate risks associated with low water levels in Lough Owel. Waterways Ireland is involved because Lough Owel is the feeder lake for the Royal Canal, which passes through Mullingar en route from Longford to Dublin.
Irish water said simple water conservation efforts could have a significant impact on driving down demand on the supply. “Actions such as turning off the tap while brushing your teeth and shaving can save up to 6 litres of water per minute,” said Mr O’Donoghue.
Customers should report any leaks they become aware of immediately to 1850 278 278.