Burst water mains will be ‘a common occurrence for years’

Irish Water issues warning following publication of report on July 2017 incident

Irish Water has warned that water main bursts will be a "common occurrence" for years to come, following the publication of a report analysing the causes of a major incident in the northeast last July.

The utility said it "recognises and deeply regrets the disruption and hardship" caused to an estimated 60,000 people in Drogheda, Co Louth, and other areas in the county and in east Co Meath in July 2017, following a burst water main.

In a report on the incident published on Thursday, it said the outage at the Staleen Water Treatment Plant was a “major incident for Irish Water” highlighting the risks posed by the condition of the water network.

A major upgrade of the plant is expected to commence later this year.


However, Gerry Duane, Irish Water's head of operations, warned that water main bursts "will continue to be a common occurrence for several years to come".

During the first seven months of 2017, there were 2,050 burst mains on public networks, or an average of almost 10 every day.

In the vast majority of cases, repairs can be carried out relatively quickly.

"In the case of the Staleen burst, the complexity of the repair and the number of people relying on this water supply made this incident very different, and so a review of how we managed it was both essential and worthwhile," Mr Duane said.

Establishing facts

A comprehensive review was undertaken to establish the facts relating to the incident on July 20th, during which three repair attempts failed before a successful bid the following Wednesday. Normal water supply resumed over the following two days.

The plant provides drinking water to approximately 90,000 people. The larger of two rising mains between the Roughgrange pump station, abstracting water from the river Boyne, and the Staleen plant burst.

The report made several recommendations, including that Irish Water should continue to develop a national emergency response and repair capability in line with international best practice.

It also suggested Irish Water make arrangements with suppliers, including during out-of-hours times, to provide additional tractor units for tankers and trailers and to provide additional stocks of bottled water.

The report recommended the utility investigate the feasibility of establishing mutual aid arrangements with other utilities, such as Northern Ireland Water, and continue to improve network information, with a particular focus on its "critical assets".

At the time of the incident, residents had to source water from supermarkets and supplies provided from army tankers and the Civil Defence, as well as fire and other emergency services.

Volunteer organisations, including the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps, distributed bottled water donated by Coca Cola, a major employer in Drogheda.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times