Reform of Irish Water treatment plants to follow unsafe discharges

Report states two incidents ‘highlight inadequacies in operational management’

The HSE reported 46 cases of gastrointestinal illness in the Gorey area following an incident that exposed about 900,000 people to insufficiently disinfected water supplies after a power and chlorine pump failure. Photograph: iStock

The HSE reported 46 cases of gastrointestinal illness in the Gorey area following an incident that exposed about 900,000 people to insufficiently disinfected water supplies after a power and chlorine pump failure. Photograph: iStock

 

MARIE O’HALLORAN

Major reform by Irish Water of management and oversight of its 800 water treatment plants (WTPs) is under way in the wake of the discharge of unsafe water in Gorey, Co Wexford and at Ballymore Eustace, Co Kildare which serves the Greater Dublin area.

A national operations management centre team is being recruited to monitor key site operations and alarms on a 24/7 basis.

A central telemetry or telecommunications system to collect data from and monitor all treatment plants electronically is also being installed.

It “will ultimately connect 10,000 sites, with priority being given to about 800 water treatment plants, starting with the largest and most critical”.

The water authority has been planning a “significant step-change” in the management of drinking water quality and an internal report states that the two incidents “highlight the inadequacies in current operational management and incident response arrangements at the WTPs and the consequent unacceptable level of risk to public health”.

Audits of the two plants were widened to include all 25 of the main treatment plants which supply 65 per cent of households and businesses served by Irish Water. This included a review of the automatic shutdown of plants based on the seriousness of a given incident, and training for plant operators on water quality criteria and incident management.

The internal report, seen by The Irish Times, shows that specialist technicians from Irish Water staff have been appointed on a long-term basis to each of the 25 plants, run by local authorities, to provide “enhanced operations and expert oversight”.

Gastrointestinal illness

The report follows the specified incidents, which occurred in August. The HSE reported 46 cases of gastrointestinal illness in the Gorey area following an incident between August 19th and 24th that exposed about 900,000 people to insufficiently disinfected water supplies after a power and chlorine pump failure. Twenty-eight people contacted Irish Water directly to report illness.

Separately, at the Ballymore Eustace treatment plant on August 20th, the cryptosporidium and disinfection barriers were compromised over a five-hour period when the “coagulation dosing system” partially failed. Similar issues were investigated on August 30th at the sludge treatment facility in the plant.

The plants are operated by the local authorities and repairs were completed before Irish Water and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were notified, in a breach of regulations.

EPA reports on both plants have been completed and are due to be published and presented to Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien shortly.

Irish Water placed specialist technicians at the two sites, along with 23 other major treatment plants, and recruitment is ongoing to double the current number from 26 to 52 with a majority expected to be in place by early next year.

The authority is carrying out an “alarm and inhibit” review with training for operators at the 25 major plants. Some 22 audits have been completed, with the remainder due to finish within days. Training of staff has also been completed at 22 of the sites.

All 33 local authorities which operate the remaining 775 water treatment plants are receiving “refresher training” on incident management. Council authorities will in turn train all operators.

The Irish Water report says the reforms will receive the “highest priority” from the authority.