Heatwave puts water debate back on the boil

Joe Gill

The recent stretch of dry hot weather provides a timely reminder of how valuable Ireland’s water is.

Like all products water can be valued close to zero when in ample supply but that quickly changes when the taps are literally turned off.

It seems remarkable that a country with a low population density located on the north-east of the Atlantic Ocean can actually ever endure water shortages but the recent hosepipe ban tells a different story.

Strategically it seems a no brainer to have a comprehensive plan for the management of water across Irish society.

At one level is the role of clean pure water in underpinning our tourism industry.

Having pristine beaches and rivers should be a basic given in any tourism package, yet there remain so many examples of poor water standards in a number of key bays and seaside towns around the country.

Having a plan that targets standards at the highest level in the world should be a priority in any plan, especially if economic growth and population expansion continues at the gallop it is currently on.

As the economy develops, the provision of water to support housing and industrial activity is also needed.

I’m not qualified to consider the idea of moving water from the Shannon to the east coast as part of the solution but the issue of leakage in the existing system is extraordinary.

We are told because of the age of existing infrastructure up to 40% of water is being lost each day.

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Is it not reasonable to suggest that should be an urgent priority in any spending programme to conserve water as we plan for the future?

There must also be scope to persuade every individual to do their part in managing water usage.

It has been interesting to see how Irish Water communicated so effectively in the recent heatwave on the issue of consumption.

A series of hints around recycling shower water for the garden, having baths instead of showers and turning taps off when washing your teeth are simple, but effective, measures.

Irish Water, itself, noted a marked reduction in water consumption as this advice was taken on board. Imagine if an effective marketing plan could hard wire that into everyone’s behaviour all year round.

Water became a hot button political topic during the controversy about charges but it needs relentless attention if Ireland is to fulfil its true economic and social potential.

It is neither ethically nor economically sensible to treat water as a responsibility-free commodity that we can all squander as we wish.

Just look at the struggles elsewhere on the planet as communities combat water shortages that are being amplified by climate change.

Contrast that with the bounty we enjoy courtesy of an eco-system supplied by the Atlantic Ocean with fresh seawater and regular supplies of rain.

Instead of cursing the supposed poor weather we should be embracing it as a unique resource. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the food sector.

Fresh water is the lung that allows grass to grow in abundance across Ireland and supports the natural production of milk and meat.

Fresh seawater creates the environment from which seafood of the highest quality is produced.

Leveraging the health and nutrition benefits that clean water provides for our critical food industry is yet another key plank in building an Ireland that creates prosperity for its population.

Water is — and can in the future be — an elixir for both the Irish economy and its society.

I want to live in a country that puts water availability and quality at the top of its national priorities. Don’t you?

To make that happen water has to be stitched into every politician’s head as a ‘must have’ and not a ‘nice to have’.

Joe Gill is director for corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal


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