Dublin’s water leakage rates ‘don’t sound like a developed world city’

Experts have criticised the amount of treated water that is being lost in a creaking network

Monthly rainfall across the State last month was a fraction of the norm: Dunsany in Co Meath saw just 18 per cent of its usual average; Dublin Airport saw just 19 per cent, while rainfall in Newport, Co Mayo, reached 71 per cent.

Mullingar, Co Westmeath had its driest June on record with just 17.4mm of rain, just 23 per cent of its average, while two Met Office stations, including Phoenix Park, saw “an absolute drought” between May 29th and June 13th.

Water shortages loom, or soon will. However, Prof Conor Murphy of the University of Maynooth says the recurring debate about supplies every time rainfall is low shows there is little resilience in the system.

“Imposing restrictions, such as hosepipe bans and night-time curbs, every couple of years to cope with drought”, are not solutions, he says. Instead, they merely illustrate the problem.


Murphy’s comments echo those made by Charles Fishman, the US -based author of The Big Thirst, who has previously warned that Dublin’s leakage figures “don’t sound like a developed world city”.

“Imagine if half the Guinness you brewed got thrown in the drain before you could put it in bottles,” he adds. “People would say that is crazy.”

In The Story of Water, a documentary produced by Irish Water in January 2020, George Hawkins, former chief executive of DC Water in the US, expresses amazement at the amount of purified water that gets wasted.

Since the documentary was made, the amount of leaks in Irish Water’s network have been reduced. In 2018, the leakage rate was 46 per cent . By the end of 2019 it was 42per cent.

By the end of last year, the wastage figure had been reduced to 40 per cent and the State-owned utility is now “on course” to achieve a national leakage rate of 38 per cent by the end of 2021. Better, but not good enough.

Complicated fixes

The utility says “fixing leaks can be complicated” for an organisation that is dealing with more than 63,000km of water pipes, much of it old and crumbling.

Over the past four years, Irish Water, without the guaranteed income stream that national water charges would have brought, has spent more than €500 million tackling the problem.

Now, however, shorter-term actions are needed, so Irish Water is also asking consumers to conserve water by:

– Taking a short shower rather than a bath
– Fixing dripping taps or leaking toilets
– Not leaving the tap running when brushing teeth or shaving
– Saving and reusing water collected from baths, showers and hand basins for use in the garden
– Avoiding using paddling pools
– Using a rose head watering can in the garden instead of a hose and aiming for the roots
– Using a bucket and sponge to wash your car instead of a hose
– Reporting any leaks to Irish Water on 1800-278278.

Tom Cuddy, Irish Water’s head of asset operations, says the utility is asking the public “to take note of their water usage and conserve where possible”.

“As rivers, lakes and groundwater levels reduce through the summer and autumn period, there is less water available for supply, while at the same time the warmer weather gives rise to increased water demands for domestic, agricultural and leisure uses,” he says.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist