New utility company Irish Water has been warned it has a lot of work to do to guarantee safe drinking supplies when it takes up its role in January.
The country’s environmental chiefs revealed that last year they were forced to issue 42 boil water notices and restrictions affecting about 50,000 people.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), at present in Roscommon 15,443 people have to boil water before they can drink it because of concerns over a cryptosporidium outbreak.
Another 30 supplies across the country have similar orders in place for precautions over E. coli, cryptosporidium, metals, nitrates, coliform bacteria or inadequate disinfection.
Gerard O’Leary, director of EPA’s office of environmental enforcement, said some of the figures are unacceptable.
“The results show progress, but the results also show that Irish Water, the new state utility, has a lot of work to do to provide safe and secure drinking water to the public,” he said.
“In Roscommon, 15,443 people on public supplies are currently on boil water notices and, overall, 30 supplies across the country are currently on boil water notices or water restrictions. These figures are unacceptable.”
The EPA annual water quality report warned Irish Water it has a series of major issues to resolve when it takes over responsibility for the national water supplies.
It highlighted the need to cut the number of people on long-term boil water notices and delays in providing major water supply projects and upgrades with no cryptosporidium barriers.
It said Irish Water must be able to ensure supplies are drinkable during all weather conditions and variations in raw water supply following disruptions during heavy rains in summer 2012 and further disruptions at Dublin’s main treatment plant at Ballymoreustace this year.
It will also have to replace lead pipes in the mains and service lines and ensure up-to-date monitoring results.
Irish Water takes over the role of providing safe supplies from the 34 local authorities next month.
The EPA report found that E.coli was found in just seven public water supplies last year compared with 87 back in 2005.
It said that remedial works have been carried out on 237 supplies and works are due to be completed on another 70 before the end of the year.
Some 147 supplies need work to avoid risks from E.coli, cryptosporidium and also to deal with issues of turbidity or cloudiness.
It said four legally binding directives were issued over supplies in Laois and Wexford last year and Mayo County Council was prosecuted for failing to act.
The EPA warned that the ability of public supplies to maintain supply quality during adverse weather events was severely tested in 2012.
It said poor weather increases the risk of contamination and high rainfall levels can wash more potential contaminants into supplies.
But it also said that the quality of water from private supplies is inferior to public supplies and last year the HSE reported a doubling of the number of VTEC cases, which is a particularly harmful form of E. coli.
“We continue to be concerned about the number of VTEC cases,” said David Flynn, programme manager with the EPA.
“Any form of E. coli is an indicator of faecal matter in the water supply, and VTEC can have particularly serious consequences. We would urge the owners of private supplies to check their water sources, and ensure that they are adequately protected and the water is disinfected.”