Water restrictions reinstated as supplies remain low

 

Water restrictions will be reinstated in many counties today having been lifted in most places last night to accommodate New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Local authorities across the State are still struggling to fix broken water mains and restore dwindling supplies at reservoirs almost a week since the thaw set in.

Despite assurances from Minister for the Environment John Gormley that most places outside Dublin would see a resumption of normal water supplies this weekend, many local authorities have said they must continue with water cuts into next week.

Restrictions remain in place in Cork, Clare, Leitrim, Laois, Limerick, Longford, Sligo, Clare, Wicklow and Kildare as well as the four Dublin local authority areas.

While a small number of local authorities are reporting a return to normal supplies of water, many more said they would continue to determine restrictions on a daily basis and warned that water could be cut off at any time. Most towns and cities had water last night, but many rural areas were only served by water tankers.

In Dublin, where householders have endured some of the most severe water restrictions, the city council yesterday said while it was making every effort to restore supplies, it could not guarantee cuts would end by January 10th, when schools return.

From 4pm today, residents in the city face 20 hours of cuts or reductions in pressure to compensate for the lifting of restrictions last night. Tomorrow the restrictions will begin again at 6pm and end at noon on Monday.

However the council said it hoped to return to nighttime cuts only, from 6pm to 7am, from Monday night onwards. The restrictions, along with repairs to water mains and conservation by householders, had succeeded in reducing demand from a height of 625 million litres on Tuesday to 525 million litres yesterday.

“As the days go by, things are definitely improving. Demand has dropped significantly and we have been able to put some water into storage, but restrictions have to continue,” Brian Smyth, a senior engineer with the council said.

While demand for water was expected to increase this week, the next major surge in usage was due on Monday week when schools returned.

“The second big demand will kick in on Monday week. We’re gearing ourselves up for that, but we can’t guarantee that there will be no restrictions after that date,” Mr Smyth said.

The council was continuing to fix water mains leaks as they arose, he added, but a problem persisted with burst pipes in buildings which had been closed for Christmas. The council was shutting supply to buildings where it became aware of leaks, but appealed to keyholders to check their premises without delay.

Water shortages in Northern Ireland are said to have eased today, with some 5,000 homes now without supply. Cookstown and Warrenpoint remain badly affected.

The Northern Ireland Executive is expected to commence an inquiry into the water shortages next week.

Regional development minister Conor Murphy said an independent probe would examine the causes of the
crisis, but insisted that restoring water supplies to homes and businesses was the first priority.

To help ease the problem, Louth County Council has agreed to supply water from its treatment plant in Dundalk to its neighbouring local authority in Newry and Mourne.

Initially, 10 tanker-loads of water will be transported by Northern Ireland Water from Dundalk each day with the emergency supply arrangement subject to continual review.

Des Foley, director of services, Louth County Council, said: “We currently have some spare capacity at our treatment plant in Dundalk and — having first prioritised the restoration of supply to locations within Louth — are now in a position to assist our colleagues at Newry & Mourne District Council in accessing a reliable and safe supply of water for homes and businesses in their area.

“This is a practical example of the type of cooperation that is ongoing between our local authorities and reflects the unprecedented challenges currently being faced around water supply.”

The development comes as the Scottish Executive continues to supply Northern Ireland with thousands of litres of bottled water to help cope with the crisis.

Meanwhile, Mr Smyth urged householders to be patient in relation to a return of water supply when water restrictions were lifted, as the time taken for water to reach the tap depended on how far someone was from where the water was shut.

“It’s not like the ESB where someone just has to flick a switch. Water travels at about a metre a second, so if you’re 6km away, you will have a bit of a wait.”

The colder weather predicted by Met Éireann next week was not likely to be severe enough to cause new bursts and breaks to pipes, Mr Smyth said.

Nighttime temperatures could fall as low as -5 tomorrow night and Monday night, but it is set to remain predominantly dry. Tuesday and Wednesday will be slightly warmer, with temperatures of two to five degrees, but there will be precipitation. This could fall as rain or “wet snow”, Met Éireann forecaster Joan Blackburn said.

It could get colder again towards next weekend, but a return to very severe low temperatures did not seem likely, she added. “We’ll have to keep an eye on it but I don’t think we’re going to see a return to the viciously cold conditions.”