Ensuring our water works: Hosepipe bans are too little, too late

Public needs to be educated about water management

Hosepipe ban was yet another a short-term initiative when a long-term plan is urgently required. Photograph: Tom Honan

Hosepipe ban was yet another a short-term initiative when a long-term plan is urgently required. Photograph: Tom Honan

 

As more than 3,000 water experts from around the world met in Stockholm last week for World Water Week, Ireland’s water utility announced that a hosepipe ban brought in during the summer was extended for another month. It was yet another a short-term initiative when a long-term plan is urgently required.

This year Ireland saw very different conditions in winter and summer that led to water quality issues and shortages. Dublin and the midlands region remain at a high risk of continued water shortages, according to experts.

Irish Water proposes to remedy this with its €1.3 billion project to extract water from the Shannon. Is this – the first major upgrade to our water infrastructure in 60 years – really the solution?

The public should be educated in water management – scarcity, pollution and wastage issues. There is a need to help the public to gain a better understanding of the real value of water, the reasons for treating water for drinking or to remove pollutants, the need to control usage of water, the importance of water in our industries like data companies, food and beverage companies, and in agriculture. It is a critical resource for every aspect of our society.

Low water levels at Blessington Lake. Photograph: Tom Honan
Low water levels at Blessington Lake this year. Photograph: Tom Honan

Highest consumers

The Irish are among the highest consumers of water per head in Europe and water demand will only increase with increasing population growth. Environmental Protection Agency figures show that only 6 per cent of Irish domestic water supply is used for drinking and cooking purposes.

There is a need to help the public gain a better understanding of the real value of water

This means that 94 per cent of the water we use does not have to be of drinking quality standard. Domestic rainwater harvesting, conservation and the use of “grey water” – collected from showers, for example – has the potential to supply more than 90per cent of domestic water. Why are we using the same water that we treated for drinking to flush the toilet? We can reuse collected rainwater for gardens instead of using treated water.

Incentives should be provided for water reuse and harvesting. The public should be educated in water management – scarcity, pollution and wastage issues. There is a need to help the public gain a better understanding of the real value of water, the reasons for treating water for drinking or to remove pollutants, the need to control usage of water, the importance of water in our industries like data companies, food and beverage companies and in agriculture. It is a critical resource.

Bottled water

The cost of treating water for drinking is significant. Why then is it not meeting the required drinking water standard, and even if it does, why do we not drink it? Instead, we spend millions of euro on hundreds of millions of litres of bottled water every year.

Is it the taste we don’t like or a fear about the quality of the water fed by the “boil water” notices that we hear and read about regularly? We can learn from grassroots initiatives like “take back the tap”, making a personal commitment to avoid bottled water, and by supporting investments in clean, available tap water for all.

We spend more on bottled water than we would have paid in water charges. An even greater cost to us is the effect of the plastic we are leaving behind in the environment.

A hosepipe ban is like someone putting their finger in the dike to prevent a devastating flood

Large companies need to playing their part by conserving the vast amounts of water they use and in implementing better water stewardship. Some businesses are now realising that water stewardship is an essential part of their business. Intel has a plan to recover 100 per cent of its global water usage by 2025. Electrolux has demonstrated significant water savings in its innovative washing machine and dishwasher technology.

The Government can drive better behaviours by providing incentives.

As individuals we can change our practices by simple things such as installing a low-flow shower head or using water-saving devices in toilets, and, in a new toilet, making sure it is low or dual-flush.

Just 2% of treated water is drunk, with the remainder of domestic consumption going on bathroom and kitchen use, and some 7% on customer-side leaks. Photograph: Getty Images
"We need to understand the value of water, what is involved in providing it for daily use and how we can manage it together." File photograph: Getty Images

We need to be aware of the water efficiency rating with a new dishwasher/washing machine.

When building a new house we should consider a water collection and reuse option in the same way as you would with an energy-efficiency option.

Using rainwater

We can also use rainwater collection units for the garden.

We need to understand the value of water, what is involved in providing it for daily use and how we can manage it together.

Ireland needs a water resilience plan to cope with events such as major flooding, long-term dry spells and pollution of water resources.

A water tanker near Vartry Reservoir in Co Wicklow. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
A water tanker near Vartry Reservoir in Co Wicklow during the heatwave this summer. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

In short, a hosepipe ban is like someone putting their finger in the dike to prevent a devastating flood.

A long-term strategy for water management needs to be devised by Irish Water and the Department of the Environment to make our water policies resilient, sustainable and inclusive.

Prof Fiona Regan is director of the Water Institute at Dublin City University

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