A new report by the expert commission looking at the future funding of water has recommended that the vast majority of people will not pay for water, write Daniel McConnell and Juno McEnroe for the Irish Examiner.
Among the main recommendations are the funding of water services for normal domestic and personal use should be out of taxation.
The report recommends that special provision should be made for those with special medical or other needs.
It also states that the volume of water necessary to meet the normal domestic and personal needs of citizens should be independently assessed through an open and transparent process.
Under the proposed arrangement, the national water utility will provide sufficient water to all citizens to cover their domestic and personal needs, and the cost of that water will be recovered from the State, which will be a customer of the utility, based on tariffs approved by CER following consultation.
“What is proposed does not therefore amount to the provision of a ‘free allowance’ of water,” the report states. As revealed in the Irish Examiner on Monday, excessive or wasteful use of water should be paid for directly by the user at tariffs determined by CER.
“Excessive or wasteful use of water will be discouraged by charging for such use and therefore is consistent with the ‘polluter pays principle',” the report adds.
The report also states that through directly billing the Exchequer for the cost of the agreed allowance for normal domestic and personal use, funds for covering the costs of water production and for further investment in infrastructure will be provided.
“Additional mechanisms should be considered to ensure that the necessary finance is guaranteed,” he added.
In respect of metering, if it is decided to proceed with the metering programme, consideration should be given to an approach that is more aligned with the proposals in this report, with a focus on metering of buildings in the case of multi-occupancy or metering of households on request.
The report states that Irish Water should complete a comprehensive programme of district metering to identify system-wide leakage and manage the network. The Expert Commission has recommended that Irish Water renew its efforts to develop a positive engagement with consumers and put in place further initiatives to engage consumers in a positive and proactive way at the national, regional, and local level.
Irish Water should also commit to the provision of extensive open-access data, for research purposes and so that consumers can easily monitor and manage consumption.
An EPA administered research budget on water management and conservation is necessary and should be put in place, the report states.
It is recommended that a much more proactive approach be taken to promoting domestic water conservation measures in Ireland.
The report states that Irish Water can play a key role in this regard not only through educational and information campaigns but also through providing advice and access to water conserving devices.
Further measures should also be considered, such as a requirement that new domestic buildings incorporate water conserving fittings and an extension of the Building Energy Rating (BER) Scheme to incorporate water conservation, it adds.
The Expert Commission recommended that this be reviewed when the allowances for consumers on public supplies are determined and that equity for group schemes and private wells be maintained through additional subsidy or other means.
The necessary measures should be put in place to give effect to the commitment that those who have paid their water bills to date will be treated no less favourably than those who have not.
Although the current set of charges were introduced by Labour's Alan Kelly, the party says the findings are exactly what it hoped for.
Its housing spokesperson Jan O'Sullivan said: "I put in submission to the Commission on behalf of the Labour party, and I clearly said there should be an allocation for households and that only those who waste water should have to pay extra."
Sinn Féin said it is disappointed details of the report have been leaked before TDs have got sight of it.
The party's housing spokesman Eoin O Broin says the job of the group was very narrow.
"It didn't include anything about water poverty, it didn't include anything about the management and delivery mechanisms of water and sanitation services - and it had a very light line around information about conservation", he said.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil that because of the leaks, the report will be released this evening.
"Because of the situation that applies here, the minister for housing has informed me that this report will be published early this evening - and it will go straight directly to the specific committee set up in the Oireachtas to deal with it".