Irish water quality in the danger zone

Scale of deficit supplies will require billions of euro in investment

Lack of investment and forward planning have combined to leave the users of more than 120 public water systems dangerously exposed. Those risks include potential infections or serious illness from polluted water along with a complete loss of domestic supply. A report from the Environment Protection Agency, given responsibility for supervising Irish Water and ensuring a safe water supply last year, makes for scary reading. It also challenged the notion that drinking water can be provided free of charge.

When "boil water" notices were issued in the western counties of Roscommon, Galway and Clare because of public health concerns and outbreaks of cryptosporidium, a perception arose that the main centres of population were risk-free. This report shows, however, that water supplies for householders in Dublin and Cork cities will require ultra violent treatment along with major upgrading works. For the State as a whole, remedial costs will run into billions of euro.

This situation has not suddenly arisen. It is a consequence of poor planning and bad politics. Vital public services were consistently starved of funding at a time when taxes were being cut for electoral reasons. The introduction of a direct water charge is one way of ensuring future investment. And while existing charges may not meet the cost of urgent remedial works, some progress is being made. People of Roscommon have been assured they will receive safe drinking water within three months.

Dublin's water supply has languished in the danger zone for many years because of shortages and an aging infrastructure. Ultra violet treatment is now being installed at a number of plants. But a nineteenth century tunnel at Callow Hill, which supplies South Dublin and North Wicklow from Vartry reservoir, is in danger of collapse and may not be replaced until 2022. A catastrophic event there would mean no mains water for tens of thousands of households. Elsewhere, more than one-in-ten public supplies are inadequate, with thirty Kerry plants requiring attention.