Specialist county council outdoor teams have tackled drinking water leaks which accounted for losses of more than 1.5 million gallons daily in areas in Co Cork which would be at risk of poor, or no, supplies in the event of a repeat of drought conditions experienced last summer.
Cork County Council, in conjunction with Irish Water, created the teams to identify and rectify leaks in regions where there were significant supply issues during the last heatwave.
With global warming likely to create hotter summers, the council and Irish Water have decided on a series of measures to combat supply issues in what were deemed to be vulnerable areas in north and south Cork.
Tom Commerford, a senior executive engineer in the council's water services department, advised councillors about the measures being undertaken to conserve water.
He said that the specialist teams swung into operation in the last five months of 2018 and had managed to save 3,900 cubic meters of water from leaking from pipes in the north Cork area every day, and a further 3,700 cubic metres per day in south Cork.
A cubic metre is equivalent to 200 gallons, meaning 1.52 million gallons of water were saved from spilling out of leaking pipes.
However, while Cllr Timmy Collins welcomed the leak-plugging operations, he expressed concern money was being wasted in the long run. Close to where he lives in the village of Meelin, council workers had recently repaired nine leaks in a section of mains less than a half kilometre long.
“Wouldn't it be cheaper to put in a new mains' supply,” he said, “but I realise we need to repair leaks in such areas, especially if we get a repeat of last summer.”
Senior official Mr Commerford said it was quite possible that long, dry summers would become more commonplace and both the council and Irish Water were monitoring such situations, putting together plans to replace mains on a priority basis in potentially vulnerable areas. He noted a report prepared county engineer Kevin Morey which stated that 34km of ageing mains were set to be prioritised by Irish Water.
The estimated €10.2m investment will be made in mains replacement in areas like Mallow, Dromina, Kilbrin, Doneraile, Castletownroche and Killavullen, amid hopes works will get underway this year.
In his report, Mr Morey said the overall cost will cover the design, planning, construction and traffic management for the projects. He said the list of planned projects will be prioritised, particularly taking into account the number of times mains had burst.
Cllr Melissa Mullane said she was concerned about the number of water meters which were put into areas by contractors working for the utility company which were subsequently found to be leaking.
The senior engineer said council staff had come across such incidents and wherever they encountered them the leaks were repaired, again to conserve water.
It is estimated that more than 40% of water produced by the local authority is leaking from ageing mains pipes.
Mr Commerford said the council and Irish Water are prioritising areas where there was a likelihood older mains could cause problems.