Dismantling Irish Water would be unwise

 

Sir, – The Association of Consulting Engineers of Ireland (ACEI) supported the establishment of a single national utility for the delivery of water services and continues to support the operation of an efficient, single national utility.

To reverse the decades of unfocused and under-investment in, and the continued deterioration of, our water systems will take many years. This is recognised both nationally and internationally, with a number of examples available demonstrating that a single utility serving a population of three million to 10 million people is an effective way to deliver water services.

Irish Water is such a utility and has put in place a €5.5 billion business plan for 2016 to 2021 that identifies and addresses the national priorities. The ACEI supports Irish Water in the implementation of this coherent business plan, focused as it is on the key needs in the water-services sector, including addressing leakages, improving drinking water quality and working on discharges from wastewater treatment plants that have resulted in pollution and deterioration of the water environment.

It is critical that water supplied to every home in the country meets the quality standards set out in the EU directive and national regulations. From 2013 to 2016, Irish Water prioritised the implementation of solutions to many of the schemes on the EPA remedial action list, where homes that were on boil water notices are now supplied with drinking water that meets the required standards. The delivery of a high-quality water service is one of the key requirements for any utility and while the ACEI welcomes the progress made, our members consider that service levels must continue to improve in line with customer expectations.

The level of investment in water services, both capital and operational, has for many decades been below that required to deliver services that are acceptable to the consumer. Irish Water has set out in its plan how it intends to fund services, where the funding will be sourced and how service quality will be improved. This is the first time that funding and quality of services have been transparently linked. Any comparison with other organisations either nationally or internationally must be with utility organisations that deliver services directly to consumers within a regulated environment.

Irish Water has also developed data-management systems and has collected and collated national-level data that provides comprehensive asset status across the country which will facilitate future annual assessments and reviews. This information is essential to the identification of investment priorities and ensuring that investment is targeted at priority needs. If Irish Water is dismantled, there is an immediate risk that recent advances and much of the good work carried out in identifying and assessing assets will be lost.

There is no easy solution to our water and wastewater problems and no magic wand to defray the costs.

Jumping ship results in a rescue mission. Usually it is dramatic, often has casualties and is more costly than steering a consistent course and getting to the destination.

Now that after many years of delay we have a national utility that is focused on improving the water and wastewater systems’ effectiveness and efficiency and on delivering a high-quality, value for money water services, the ACEI believes that it would be a retrograde step to move away from this single national utility model. – Yours, etc,

Dr SARAH INGLE,

Secretary General,

Association of Consulting

Engineers of Ireland,

46 Merrion Square,

Dublin 2.