The Irish Times view on water supply: an outrageous waste

The water supply system and the legislation that underpins it are not fit for purpose

Something is seriously wrong when one per cent of households use one-quarter of all the potable and expensive drinking water that is produced. That is an uncomfortable reality, based on figures produced by the Central Statistics Office. It points to domestic wastage on a truly abusive scale; to tremendous water leaks on household properties or, perhaps, to both. Whatever the reason, Irish Water has a responsibility to protect normal users and its creaking system while politicians should revisit a decision to postpone excessive-use charges until the second half of next year.

At a time when reservoir levels are falling, boats are running aground on the Shannon lakes and drought conditions exist in parts of the country, the need for a re-evaluation of attitudes is obvious. Climate change promises wetter, stormier winters and warmer, drier summers. This year, Ireland may have received a taste of things to come.

Last spring, three days of snow and freezing conditions forced Irish Water to declare an emergency in order to conserve supplies. Residents in six counties were cut off and water restrictions in Dublin continued for weeks. Unusually dry summer weather brought the re-imposition of nightly restrictions as Irish Water took precautionary action and guarded against a total outage of services in the coming autumn.

The water supply system and the legislation that underpins it are not fit for purpose. Three years ago, in an attempt to make charges less offensive to some voters, the government decided that the average household should receive a free allocation of 583 litres a day. We now find that consumption has been falling since 2014 and usage amounted to just 351 litres per household in 2016. In spite of that, Dublin’s water supply remains, as Irish Water reminds us, “on a knife-edge”. Should all households take up their legal allocation of water, taps would run dry. That is a compelling reason to identify those engaged in outrageous waste. Fix their leaks or reduce their water pressure.